Retail Market Study. A study of the retail space

A Retail Market Study of the Retail Space

The Retail Market by Tom Dougherty

This retail market study will look at the retail market as it stands today and the art of retail branding. We will look at the competitive positioning, brand promises, segmentation strategies and the influx of online retailing.

More importantly, we wanted to see what the trends are. Where is the retail market heading? And, with news of poor sales and store closings, where can retailers go from here? (Read a brand new article that details department store rebranding strategy here)

Let’s begin by looking back because we can learn from it.

History of Retail Branding

Today’s retail market is in the midst of great changes. The current competitive set is under fierce competition from new and emerging venues. Yesterday’s winners may be losers today as the brands seek importance and place in the shifting sands of retail expression.

Retail branding is both fashion and marketing
The retail space

This dynamic of change is not a new occurrence in retail. Like the ancient city of Pompeii and the modern city of Napoli, retailers live next to a snoozing volcano of transformation. This volcanic giant erupts at historical intervals and its pyroclastic flow and unstoppable sea of lava changes the landscape in a flash of the eye. It leaves former populations stranded, frozen in time, and builds new terrains for the lucky survivors.

More than 200 years ago, populations were centered within metropolitan areas. Suburban living was rare and rural residents made their way to nearby cities when purchases were needed. Back then, required clothing was either unable to be made and/or unavailable in the general store. Those residents of cities and metropolitan areas shopped in retail districts, often defined by the type of product that was available. There were streets and avenues that were known colloquially as the shoe district, milliner district, haberdashers and others.

Like the advent of supermarkets in food retailing, where various store fronts were brought together under one roof (i.e. green grocer and butcher shop), convenience drove the birth of the department store. These eponymous mega-stores brought the shingles of merchants together in one place. Suddenly, it was possible to shop for hats, shoes, dresses, and outerwear all in one place. The lucky city shopper was able to save time as well as sample all the finest and utilitarian goods available.

This retail market was a global phenomenon. In Britain, Kendals, Harrods, Selfridge, Baimbridge and others took hold. As the space moved towards this powerful market economy, department stores arrived all over the European continent. Le Bon Marché, Karstadt, Magasin and countless others — each representing the needs of the local population.

In the US, retail giants took root and Gimbels, Macy’s, John Wanamaker, Lit Brothers, Strawbridge and Clothier, Lord & Taylor, Marshal Fields, Frederick and Nelson began. Many never morphed into chain stores. Marble Palace, in New York, was one of the first department sores.

As the population shifted to the suburbs from the 1940s and 50s, these large department stores opened chain stores in larger markets. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward were the equivalent of Amazon today. They allowed for home shopping from catalogs for the most rural customers because it was a department store in a book. These not only brought all the departments under one roof, their more efficient buying power enabled them to offer pricing that put additional pressures on small specialty retailers.

Retail branding lacks the most important differentiating messages
Retail Marketers Lack Important messaging

As a result, cities all over the globe saw more and more independent specialty stores shutter their windows and close. The department store appeared to be an irresistible source.

Eventually, it seemed that every major city had a string of independent department stores. Check out the listing for now defunct department stores on Wikipedia, for example. The brands number into the hundreds.

About 20-30 years ago, there was a great consolidation of brands as holding companies like Mays and Federated swallowed up local stores. In some instances, the new store brand names were consolidated to just a handful. Eventually, great legacy stores like Hecht’s, Wannamaker’s, Strawbridge, Bamberger’s and others went the way of the Studebaker and either closed or became branded as one of the winners — like Macy’s.

The first real challenge in the retail market to department store dominance was from the value institutions. Two Guys, EJ Korvettes, WT Grants, Kressge, Kress, Woolworths Kmart, Clover, Aimes, Bradlees, Jamesway, McCrory, and others appeared. They siphoned off the value shoppers from the major main line department stores. Those stores today are represented by Target, Wal-mart and Kmart.

In the traditional department store model, retailers counted on the efficiency of a one-stop shopping experience. But they also quickly understood shopping as a recreational experience. Put simply, they accepted that shopping was for fun as well as utility. What these stores were doing was selling an experience. Lavish first floors, escalators, elevators, balconies, and also marble and imported features, raised the experience to the level of theatre.

From the siege of discount department stores mentioned earlier, the main line department stores learned the value of loss leaders and clearance sales. Part of the entertainment value was certainly the thrill of the hunt. The department stores heads quickly learned that, at certain price points, even the most experienced shopper was willing to buy something they did not really need. Why? Because the price was simply too good to pass up.

Today, in the retail market world, new pressures have arrived. Specialty stores are on the rise again because shoppers are looking for the unique and unusual. Population centers have expanded and almost every community can support a mall (that is, a centralized design predicated upon the idea that a city shopping experience could be brought to any community) and a discount retailer like Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Target. But margins have eroded, discounting has become the norm, shoppers are savvier and the availability of online purchasing can fulfill the needs of the shopper. The thrill of the hunt can reside on your tablet or phone and when the shopper visits the department store they are aware of pricing and compare it to an online venue or a competitors web site live — even while in the store itself.

It is within this cobbled environment that we begin our retail market study. What does the future hold? How can any retail environment survive when most retailers are simply copying one another? At the end of the day, is price, discounting, and over-saturating the market the only game necessary playing? Are the department store websites eating their own young? These are just some of the many questions we will be contemplating through the course of this study.

A Snapshot of the Retail Market

As we’ve explained, the retail industry is amuck . Changes are afoot that retailers are having difficulty dealing with. We’ve seen Radio Shack, Barnes & Noble, Office Depot, Sears, Staples and Toys “R” Us close locations for a variety of reasons.

The entire retail market is so vast, we are going to concentrate on the apparel market. But even the apparel market sees retailers close locations, with J.C. Penney announcing 33 store closings by May and Abercrombie & Fitch to close 180 stores by 2015.

Like their retail brethren, the apparel retailers are in this pinch because they lack differentiation and their business models are outdated in a world of sea changes.

To begin, let’s map out how the retail market positions in the retail market itself. In the graphic below, you see the luxury retail markets (the Bergdorf Goodman and Von Maur’s of the world) existing on the top. This high-end section can blur into our middle-tiered players (department and specialty stores: Belk, Macy’s and GAP, for instance). The middle-tiered players blend into the value and discount retail providers (such as Wal-Mart and TJ Maxx).


The retail market space and retail branding
A detailed strategic chart of the retail market

The shoppers at Bergdorf Goodman would rarely go into Wal-Mart, and vice versa. The middle was intended to play to all shoppers.

In this paradigm, and because of their polar positions, luxury retailers and discount stores already come with a built-in audience. Those shoppers seeking exclusivity for the privileged and top designer fashion will frequent the high-end markets, while those seeking a value will hit the discount shop.

For example, Bergdorf Goodman offers a uniquely exquisite shopping experience. The store is uncluttered and displays recognizable products for the upper class.

In this region of the retail market, the shopper is readily defined and is willing to spend major bucks on the finest brands, quite happily. High-end stores represent a vision of either how they see themselves (elite) or how they aspire to see themselves.

The lowest sector of our retail market segment represents discount and value markets. It, like the luxury sector, also has a built-in set of loyal customers. Represented here are those seeking value, perhaps quantity, and locations close to home. (They, also like the high-end shopper, may seem themselves as smarter than the rest.)

Wal-Mart rules this portion of the market. The customer knows exactly what they will find at Wal-Mart, approximately how much they’ll spend, and can plan accordingly with their wallets. Same too with TJ Maxx, which offers fashionable brands at discounted prices, as well as Target and others positioned in this section.

This then leaves the largest portion of the retail market in and around the middle. Here we find department and specialty stores lurking about, but without any real defining factors that separate them from the other contenders – including those above and below them in this matrix.

Here’s the mess of what happening in the retail market

(Here is an article from the Chicago Sun Times about retail sales in November 2015) In this realm, the department store aims to steal market share from both the luxury and discount category. The lunacy in that is the only way these stores can gain market share is by way of discounting merchandise and building store locations nearby. That’s all.

Dillard's retail brandingLet’s take Dillard’s, for instance. When this department store comes to mind, we might think: “a bit upscale.” Maybe something along the lines of a Bon-Ton, but a little bit nicer. While that’s the thought, the message it advertises is quite murky. Dillard’s is marketing a preposterous mix of high fashion infused with heavy discounting and sales.

Basically, it is trying to be both luxury and discount. In that case, if you prefer luxury, you ignore Dillard’s because the luxury stores are right there next to it. If you prefer discount, you ignore Dillard’s because the discount stores are right there too. When you try to be everything to everybody, you end up being for nobody. You are undefined.

What this tells us is that Dillard’s (like any other department store that faces the same dilemma in the retail market) hasn’t found any singular means to identify itself, so it copies and hopes to steal a few customers from the high-end and low-end shops. It offers high-end fashion as a way to snag shoppers who may frequent the luxury stores (but that won’t work since the luxury shopper seeks experience), but also plays against the discount category by offering blowout sales throughout the year. Even Macy’s seems stuck in a world of tactics. Take a look at this Macy’s commercial from Black Friday 2015. All it demonstrates is no new ideas in the retail market.

Macy’s Black Friday Commercial

How about JC Penney as another example? Like Dillard’s, at JC’s we find some major brand names being offered for the shopper seeking a good sale. Our problem again is the need for the department store to pull from the luxury and value segment.

JC Penny retail brandingWhen JC Penney hired Ron Johnson a few years, it sensed the terrible trap it found itself. Johnson, the former retail chief for Apple, decided JC Penney was no longer going to offer discounted items. He, based on his experience at Apple, wanted to build a brand that shoppers sought out – even if they could get those items cheaper elsewhere.

With less than two years on the job, Johnson was fired by the JC Penney Board of Directors as the company lost $4.3 billion in sales and dropped 28.4% in holiday sales.

The problem JC Penney and Johnson faced is the same problem department stores are facing how. They are playing in the middle of the retail market and lack any kind of credible, singular identity.

To gain that identity, and steal share, these middle-tier retailers must become owners of a tangible concept. On a macro level, luxury and discount do this with experience and value. But on a micro level, nobody but Wal-Mart really owns cheap.

To break away from the set and highlight yourself as being different and better, each player within each segment must become known for something that is uniquely its own.

In simple terms, you must be known for something. Right now, the stores playing in the middle – trying to have a foot in one end and the other – are known for nothing. The high-end and discount stores (not to mention online outlets like Amazon) are pulling customers from them.

This is why JC Penney continues to struggle. It is playing a game in which what it offers is better served in other areas of the retail spectrum. JC Penney and those like it need to change its brand and business model.

Discount Stores

When we look into the abyss of discount stores in the retail market, we can basically see one big winner and a whole lot of second-rate copycats.

Here’s the gist of the problem with the category. Wal-Mart has taken claim of a unique position and isn’t moving anywhere. It owns affordability and has become the destination for the shopper who wants it all under one roof — at a fraction of the cost.

Brands like Target (Read why Target needs repositioning) try so hard to be like Wal-Mart that they even sound like the low-cost retailer. Take Target’s theme, “Expect more. Pay less.” and Wal-Mart’s, “Save money. Live Better.” If we are to draw a line in the sand, the leader (Wal-Mart) is always going to be the winner. It is the consumer’s default choice. How is Target going to beat the competition if it is just copying what the competition does?

From the inside-out perspective of the stores themselves, the difference between Target and Wal-Mart is simple. Wal-Mart brands for everyman, while Target attempts to pinpoint an audience a bit younger, more educated, hip and affluent.
We’re here to tell you it isn’t working.

Target. Retail BrandingTarget is just doing what Wal-Mart has done. There isn’t any mark of differentiation between the two in reality. For example, the same Apple products are offered at both. Food, and clothing, too.

So, how will Target ever win if it is doing the exact same thing the market leader is doing? It won’t. In the race to attract the discount shopper, copying the market leader always leads to second place or worse. That’s because when the reasons to choose are the same, the default choice is always the market leader.

Meanwhile, way, way off in the distance from successful Wal-Mart and semi-successful Target is Kmart.

In 2005, Kmart was taken on by the fumbling, Sears Holding Corporation. Following that came a series of failures: losing the Martha Stewart Living line in 2009 following comments made by Stewart that Kmart had “deteriorated” since merging with Sears (funny thing: she was right). Several years later, after dismal holiday sales, 100 Sears/Kmart stores closed.

Failure came to Kmart as a result of promising exclusivity of its product line. As an idea, that seemed right. But not when the Kmart brand itself is identified as downscale.

In some ways, this is about brand permission. When Kmart had an exclusive with the Martha Stewart line, the Martha Stewart brand suffered – meaning the exclusivity of it became meaningless. It is the Kmart brand itself that hampers sales, not what it offers. (It seems Kmart has yet to learn that. It now trots out the Adam Levine line.)

No celebrity line will work until Kmart fixes its own brand. It is definitely in need of brand repair.

TJ Maxx, Stein Mart and their shortcomings

The T.J. Maxx and Marshalls brands, owned by the TJX Company, appeal to shoppers seeking to save big bucks on big name brands. “If [it] says, ‘We like this $40 shirt you’re selling at Macy’s, but we want to retail for $22. We don’t need lining and we could use cheaper buttons.’ [it] will get what it asks because it will place an order for two million,” shared Howard Davidowitz, chair of the retail-consulting firm Davidowitz & Associates.

T.J. Maxx and Marshalls retail brandingTJX now sports over 3,000 retail stores nationwide (a total which also includes the furniture brand, HomeGoods). However, just because it has a lot of stores and sales are up doesn’t mean the prognosis is good. TJX’s game plan to oversaturate the market with stores might be good for short-term sales figures, but that doesn’t build preference.

What does make the TJX companies different is its specialty products section. Unique to the smaller discount stores is the garage sale of goods in the back of every TJX store, where you can find name brand kitchen and home goods.

Remember this: distinct sections like these drive people into a store because they provide an experience unlike any other. At a TJ’s, you can get clothes for cheap, but you come for the cool stuff in the back.

Stein Mart, meanwhile, brands itself as an upscale boutique. We’re not entirely sure they are that, however. The theme of “More fashion, less price” is basically the mirror of T.J.’s, Marshalls, or Ross (“Dress for Less’) for that matter.
Their website offers all sorts of after holiday deals: “Save an extra 30% off” and “Red Dot Clearance” litter the site. Not exactly the upscale boutique feel, is its

Stein Mart still plays in the same area as its competitors – Brand clothes for less price. Playing in that area is not the problem. There is a tremendous market for that shopper, but being the same as the competition means you are not preferred.


Thinking discount as a whole for the retail market

Let’s call the discount store category what it is — a sea of nondescript imitators.

Right now, nobody stands for anything other than price. That’s it. The huge problem is that Wal-Mart solely owns the position of being cheap. So everyone else loses by playing the price game, too.

Even with the brand discounters, like Stein Mart, offering you a great 30%-off deal, it is basically telling you, “We have no identity worth sharing, but come buy our stuff anyhow because it’s cheap.” When Target copies Wal-Mart’s tagline, it is because it’s gasping for air too.

It’s high time these brands grew up. Or some of them are going to be gone.

These stores must own something beyond price, because Wal-Mart already owns it. The idea is to own something emotionally that gives consumers a reason to prefer you, the same way a pickup driver may describe himself as a Ford man.

Tactically, though, these retailers can be known for something that no one else has, such as gift giving. (And if you uncover the emotional reasons why gift giving is important, then you really have something.)

What if Target (or someone) added a “Great Gifts for Everyone” section in its stores? This could be a place where you could always find interesting, Target-selected goods that are perfect as a presents. Suddenly, Target now owns “Gift Giving,” which brings customers to the store. (Again, the emotional undercurrents of gift giving are what will make the brand.)

This section wouldn’t simply be like all the other sections in the Target store (clothing, home, electronics, etc.), but an entity unto itself. Perhaps it’s a separate room, with different lighting and style, even music. Target could hire specialists for this section — masters of giving great gifts, with a history of doing so. Store demonstrations and talks could be given.

Forget playing the price war. Sell this concept.

Change has to happen soon in this category or demise is afoot.

Specialty Shops

If you consider all the specialty shops stationed all across the US, which sector would you say does this:

• Owns an event that happens more than two million times per year
• Is part of a $40 billion industry
• Includes nearly 10,000 individual shops

What category would that be?

It would be bridal salons, from the biggest (David’s Bridal, Bridal Warehouse) to the local shops to the luxury ones you see on reality TV. They have managed to own an event, get customers to pay for an expensive dress they will only use once (the brides hope) and hunt all over to find the perfect one.

The shops are all in the considered set (within the realities of access). They all stand for something. And many of them even have preference, most notably because of past experience.

Why can’t the rest of the specialty shop market follow suit?

At first glance, it looks like many are, segmenting the market to own something. Urban Outfitters, Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch are for the young & hip. L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer are for those who treasure the outdoors. Men’s Warehouse and Jos. A. Bank are for the formal male (at a good price) and these two have merged.

However, most of what they (and others) offer can be found elsewhere. Let’s recap a few of the players in specialty, and then examine what strategies they can employ to take more important ownership as bridal shops do.

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters retail brandingUrban Outfitters aims to attract the young and hip of those among us. That’s fine as it goes. But as we’ll see, Urban Outfitters is not alone in trying to attract this audience. It has a cool, free-living factor. Even its “Lighten Up” message suggests that. And it takes a stab at promoting what it deems is its unique fashion.

As a holding company (Urban Outfitters also owns Anthropologie and Free People) it’s done well, but the Urban Outfitters stores are not growing as quickly as its other brands with net sales dropping. Urban Outfitters, as a brand, is so dependent on “trendy” that its performance fluctuates.

Keep that in mind. If you are “trendy,” then you might hit the game-winner every now and then, but you will also shoot an air ball. For long-term health, you need a consistent offense.


The first thing you notice here is that Gap is no longer The Gap. The “the” has been eliminated. Long the go-to place for young, hip fashion, Gap is facing more competition and, therefore, less market share.

Gap retail brandingThe recent holiday season was a mixed bag for Gap, as sales soared on Black Friday but the retailer found customers less interested by December. Gap is doing better than the other two brands it owns (Banana Republic and Old Navy), but there are still problems.

Its marketing looks all the same as its competitors. If the Gap logo didn’t appear at the end, you wouldn’t be able to identify who the ad is for. They’re just so similar to what Urban Outfitters (and others) do.

Abercrombie & Fitch

Huffington Post recently released a list of nine brands that could be dead soon (its words) and, lo and behold, there was Abercrombie & Fitch. It cited a lack of variety among its clothes and high prices. Those may well be among the reasons, but it’s more than that.

You might remember A&F CEO Mike Jeffries’ comments last year that drew some Internet outrage. He said A&F was only for the “cool kids” and “only interested in people with washboard stomachs.” There’s more, but you get the drift.

Abercrombie & Fitch retail brandingNow, customers aren’t ignoring Abercrombie & Fitch simply out of protest to what Jeffries said. No, the reason is because, as a brand, A&F absolutely does think that way.

As we’ve seen, there’s simply nothing special about that kind of approach. It’s what everyone else is doing, and there’s something irritating about the A&F approach. It’s over the top in the washboard category. It’s a brand that’s trying too hard and it shows.

Not to belabor the point, let’s point out that there are others holding in a similar pattern, whether you’re talking about J. Crew or even Banana Republic, and move on.

The others

There are other ways to segment the market. Many shops do speak to a specific lifestyle but only one seems to do something other than the blatantly obvious. That would be Lane Bryant.

Lane Bryant took some heat for its sexy TV spot, which is silly. In an era in which Victoria’s Secret is splashed all over the airways and Miley Cyrus is twerking, this approach isn’t so taboo. In fact, it delves into a deep, emotional belief that Mr. Jeffries of A&F has misconstrued: If I don’t have washboard abs, am I still sexy?

LaneBryant retail brandingLane Bryant is saying that you can be – and it’s working. Owned by Ascena Retail Group, Lane Bryant’s year-to-year, comparable sales in November and December increased by 13%. That’s impressive given that holiday sales were generally down for retailers. (Check out this blog with our comments on a Lane Bryant advertising campaign)

Meanwhile, the outdoor enthusiasts of L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer have certainly found a stake in the ground, but they execute it in the most obvious way. Therefore, it’s not all that emotional or important.

One of the more interesting corners of the specialty retail market is men’s wear – specifically, the situations surrounding Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank. The two retailers have been battling each other for years and it was nastiest before the merger.

In fact, Jos. A. Bank is being purchased by Men’s Wearhouse, ending a feud that was bloody. It even took out a founder.

Men's Wearhouse retail brandingThe board of Men’s Wearhouse fired George Zimmer – and you all should know him. He’s the one with the gravely voice and beard that says, “You’re gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it.” The board believed the brand was too much about him and not about the products.

That’s true, but the new direction is blending into what other retailers are doing. You could say Men’s Wearhouse is becoming for those men who are young and hip. Sound familiar?

How to Win in the Retail Market

Before we take a look at what specialty shops can learn from the bridal salons, let’s take a step back and look at the apparel retail market as a whole.

As explained earlier in this study, retailers have mapped out a matrix in which consumers can decide where to go. There is the men-women line, intersected with the luxury-discount one. Consumers place themselves in the retail market as defined by the retailers.

The specialty shops sit over by the side. In general, they are more toward women and straddle the middle of luxury-discount. That is, they are in competition with the department stores.

Retail market study
The Retail Market in Flux

Department stores are in predicament. They are so undifferentiated that there is no self-identification. They are not luxury. They are not discount. They are not specifically for men. They are not specifically for women.

Within the specialty shop space of the retail market, there is the same matrix and you’d find most in the middle, with a slight edge to the female side because most of fashion resides over there.

At the moment, most specialty shops define themselves by a style. A consumer chooses, theoretically, by that style.

But what happens when that style is available at many locations?

The solution: Be known for something that no one is known for. For that reason, it might behoove specialty shops to first consider where they stand on the luxury-discount scale.

That’s because most are in the middle, but there’s a certain advantage to being one or another. If you are high-end luxury (like, say, Saks Fifth Avenue), you know your customers are rarely, if ever, going to dip into the low-end, discount pool of Wal-Mart for clothes.

By the same token, those who primarily shop at Wal-Mart would not go online and look for clothes at Bergdorf Goodman. Much of that is economics, of course, but there are also two completely different emotional drivers for each segment. The luxury shoppers see themselves as always wanting the best; the clothes and accessories are representations of being elite.

The discount shoppers, meanwhile, see themselves as smart. They believe those luxury shoppers are being railroaded into thinking it’s more important to have the most expensive dress compared to discount shoppers who believe their money is best used elsewhere.

Therefore, the first step the specialty stores need to take is to position themselves on the luxury-discount line. If they stay in the middle, then they will continue to find declining sales as department stores play there as does online shopping. (You can always find what you want for a good price online, the thinking goes.)

Reatil branding is stuck in the category paradigm
Look outside the category for solutions

The next step, and the most important one, is to own something. Right now, retailers are trying to own men’s clothes, young and hip, or outdoors. Young and hip, while having a relationship to fashion, is a cliché and, by itself, not that meaningful. Other demographics, like male or female, are simply reflections of what you offer.

Instead, you should own the reasons why your customers want to be young and hip, you would own an emotion.

Quantitative research would also determine what else you could own that is different – and more meaningful – than what the rest of the market is attempting to own.

That’s where you look to the bridal shops. They absolutely own something. An event. A season. A milestone. This sounds like more segmenting, but it’s really about positioning yourself against the competition that you are different and better.

For the men’s stores, for example, why couldn’t they own when you get that first professional job? The retailers would fear that that tactic would shrink your audience, but not really. If the emotional stakes are highlighted (you’ve made it), then your approach reached deeper and across more of the market.

Specialty shops are simply not that special anymore. They are lost in a quagmire of choices where everything blends into another. When that happens, sales fall short of expectations, stores are closed and irrelevancy sets in.

The Retail Market Summary

The current players in the retail market are in trouble. Sales are down, consolidation is the name of the game and competition lurks everywhere. Retailers aren’t helping themselves by producing the same, worn-out messages that depend on sales and clichés.

The retail numbers reflect that. While consumer spending rose .4% in January, the apparel retailers didn’t do so well. The industry is reporting weak sales in January, coming off a lackluster return during the holiday season as sales fell 14.6% on same-store sales industry wide.

The retail market and the retailers themselves are in full spin mode in discussing these two periods, saying the holiday season was shorter than in past years and that bad weather (especially on the population-heavy East Coast) kept buyers home.

Sure, those are factors but individual brands are suffering. Kohl’s reported a 2% drop in same-store sales, while Stein Mart had a .7% drop. Where are all the shoppers going?

To the Internet. Specifically, Amazon.

Amazon retail brandingThe Internet giant’s annual revenue has spiked each year, with total revenues expected to be reported at $75 billion for 2013.

Here’s what is strange: Amazon does not turn a profit, yet its stock is at record highs. In essence, what Amazon is doing – and what investors are counting on – is gobbling up more and more market share. To Amazon, the potential size of its market share is limitless.

And who is Amazon stealing market share from? Retailers, of course. The ones with brick and mortar stores, and their own e-commerce sites that can’t even begin to compete with the vastness of Amazon.

On-line shopping

The retail market is changing, although at a far slower pace than how the customer is changing. Retail stores are not the destinations they once were as none of them can compete with the size of inventory the Internet offers.

The Internet, especially Amazon, has other advantages. It owns ease of use and even bargain shoppers can hunt down a sale through it. It can handle orders from across – and to – the world.

Amazon Home page retail market study
Amazon is rewriting the retail market space. On-line Shopping.

This is the truth. There’s simply no logical reason to go to a retail outlet in today’s technological world.

If retailers continue down their current path, here’s what will happen. The pace of closing stores will increase. We’ve already seen recently that Staples is closing 225 stores, RadioShack is shutting down 1,100 and so many others are bleeding money.

To turn a profit, retailers will close so many stores they will become irrelevant and become simply suppliers to large retail sites (Amazon, Wal-Mart). Or they will become the equivalent of a local specialty shop.

Amazon will continue to grow and retail brands will market their offerings as “available at Amazon.” CEOs will be fired. Companies will downsize and consumers will become even less interested in the brands themselves. All that will matter will be price, look and fit.

There will be further consolation as companies look to share redundancies, cut costs and increase their market space.

Wearing something from Gap (or any other retailer for that matter) will mean nothing. The department stores will have these huge retail spaces that are empty of customers, especially customers buying product.

Basically, the doomsday scenario.

If you don’t believe it, the evidence is all around you.

Retail study Online retailers
EBAY is an established on-line retailer

That means retailers must make some hard decisions. They must be known for something that goes beyond what they sell and how much they sell it for.

In this retail market study, we have recommended that the department stores become known for a department. We have recommended specialty stores remember that their specialty is not about a style, a brand of clothing or a price. But that their specialty is an event, which could be a season, a type of activity or a point in someone’s life.

Most of all, none of the retailers can continue to blur the lines of definition by spouting the same messages as the rest of the field. They must be truly different and better.

Despite what the retailers say, they are not. The major learning while Stealing Share strategists were looking at the retail market was how much it was full of blaring noise. Everything – from style to messaging to operations – ran together to form a ceaseless blob that consumers are increasingly tuning out.

The differences between retailers are as thin as blades of grass. It may be the most undifferentiated markets we have ever seen. That is why the doomsday scenario is in play for many retail outlets.

Think about this. Only 10 years ago, Gap was the 18th largest retailer in the nation. Last year, it was 33rd. The Sears Holding Company (which owns both Sears and Kmart) saw sales drop 9.2% in 2013. J.C. Penney’s dropped a whopping 24.7%.

We could go on and on. But the future is coming and changes must be made. Take heed. If you don’t, you will lose.

 We have written extensively about the retail market

Sears and Kmart

The Target and Walmart Retailers

 Jos. A Bank and Mens’s Wearhouse a retail merger

Walmart is not invincible 

Retail Market should concentrate on experience

The failure of Radio Shack is a learning for all retailers

Marketing experts are the problem in the retail market

Lessons in retailing

Staples and Office Supply retailers

Retailers lack urgency

Value Propositions. A look at the retail market.




Predict the success of marketing. A Marketing Metrics

Predict the success of marketing. Predicting that influence on brand strategy

The Human Model | Motivators | Challenges | Desire | Familiarity | Leadership | Affirmation | Scope | Comfort | Change | Community | Summary

By Tom Dougherty

Introduction into the art of how to predict the success of marketing

The purpose for all messaging and communications is to have influence on the audience and to persuade it to act. However, getting your message to the proper audience in today’s economic climate is no longer an issue of choosing among the possibilities. Instead, it has become solely an issue of affordability. There is a need to predict the success of marketing messages. In retrospect, many experts have looked at the success of past advertising campaigns but hindsight is not valuable.

predict the success of marketing
A model to predict behavior

Companies do what they “need” to do, instead of what they “want” to do. How do you measure effectiveness and ensure that you win? These questions can be predicted if not measured. We needed a comprehensive model to predict the success of marketing so we created this marketing metrics. For that “need” to be effective, it must be the most meaningful in the market – and it must resonate considering the current situation, such as an economic climate that has changed the mindsets of consumers.

The unwillingness to address those needs and go with the same tired approach – messaging that’s nearly identical to what was delivered years ago and follows the tired reach-frequency format so many misguided marketers follow – produces a predictable, losing formula. After all, in changing times, there will still be winners and there will still be losers.  The difference between the two is one understands the nature of human beings and the other doesn’t.

If you seek to understand something, it always makes sense to model it. The science of physics has been modeling natural laws for centuries. The marketing metrics model presented here is a formula that takes into account the emotional intensities of the primary human motivators within any changing situation, economic or otherwise, to formulate messages that will resonate most strongly with audiences, and predict the success of marketing messages. With this marketing metrics model, you will learn to recognize the elements and, if form follows function, you will be able to understand how to influence and change the model. (Read how precepts control behavior)

The Comprehensive Model of Persuasive Communications for marketing and branding. How to predict the success of marketing A New Human Model for Persuasive Communications

to predict the success of marketing is the goal of any strategist and marketing matrix
How well will our marketing messages resonate

Human behavior can be modeled, as you will see, and this marketing metrics model in particular models the behavioral elements of persuasion. Let’s start by asking ourselves, what do we notice? How do we decide what is important and what we remember? When we examine the answers to those questions, we begin to re-think the waste inherent in current marketing. Looking at the elements of human behavior is quite different from modeling a communication process like reach and frequency. For this new model to be usable, it needs to act as a predictor of human behavior and, by definition, should be able to explain past communication successes and failures.

What Human Beings Notice Most

Human beings are egocentric. We cannot get out of our own way and see almost everything through the filter of self. As a result of this filter, what the receiver considers most when confronted with messages is not so much “what’s in it for me” (which is the traditional model of benefits and features) but rather “am I in it”? Human beings notice ideas and products that, in some way, reflect themselves. They remember products and ideas that help them accomplish their major goal of simply becoming themselves. That is why, if a doctor tells you to lose weight because of the onset of diabetes, we notice and pay attention to messages about weight loss — a message we might have ignored the day before. (Another example: Think of how many For Sale signs you saw when you were buying a house. Then think about how, amazingly, they seemed to disappear once you bought the house.)

The New Marketing Metrics Model to Predict the Success of Marketing and Marketing Messages

Imagine this: You are driving down the highway and you see a billboard that featured your photograph. Would you notice it, regardless of message? Absolutely. There is a communications process that empowers every message to become exactly that effective. It requires an anthropologist’s skill at understanding and modeling human behaviors and motivations. Once that has been uncovered, you would need to include that learning in the message itself. It would be nearly as effective – and in a similar way – as starting every message with the customer’s name and image. Through experience and empirical and scientific research, the human motivators have been effectively modeled here and the basic elements are cross-cultural, so personal impression can be noticed and acted upon. The basic queries in this marketing metrics remain constant regardless of culture or national origin. They are global. Understanding the eight elementary human motivators propels your message to the forefront and ensures it is remembered.

The Unquenchable Thirst for Meaning

Human beings, regardless of culture, seek meaning in all of their actions. (Consider this: We even talk to our dogs, expecting them to give reasons for the things they do.) This represents an opportunity for those communicators who understand this tremendous thirst for meaning. This means that the words we choose to create meaning to our messages and our brand is extraordinarily important. It means that everyone who is exposed to your offering or the communication of that offering sees this meaning and, in fact, will use the words you provide to them. This is a double-edged sword. If you get the meaning wrong, those with whom you are communicating will insert meaning that is not important or motivating to them and, therefore, fail to inspire them to your ideas, services, products or brands.

The Prime Motivators in the Marketing Metrics

The eight primary human motivators form the basics of self-identification and account for a human’s own sense of self — given that the fundamental needs for sustenance, shelter and health are sated. By addressing each of these in your message, you ensure that everyone who is exposed to your message (reach) will notice the message.

1. Affirmation 2. Leadership 3. Familiarity 4. Comfort 5. Change 6. Community 7. Desire 8. Scope

These eight prime motivators are the filters through which all messages are received, accepted, ignored or rejected. The more they reflect the “self-settings” of the recipient, the more likely they are to be acted upon.

Good Times vs. Tough Times and Times of Change

In creating this model, we looked at each of the eight prime motivators needed to predict the success of marketing messages and measured the differences between cultural norms in both good and tough economic times because most companies and brands in the U.S. have become handicapped by this situation. The marketing metrics model will demonstrate the differences in these motivators, predict success and explain failure. We are able to recognize the intensities of each motivator in relation to the situation as well as the rate with which they change during changing situations. In this case, that situation is economic: Going from “good times” to the “tough times” of today. The motivators below are listed in order of intensity during good times and tough times. Also, the way in which each motivator is defined changes slightly, depending on overall circumstances. It is those nuances that often make the difference between a winning message in the context of the times and a losing one. Each motivator has been given an intensity measurement, a ranking on a 10-point scale based on the particular situation. In addition to differing definitions, the rate of change for the intensity of a human motivator from one situation to another is referred to as Acceleration, and those rates are measured on a 10-point scale.

Tough Times
Good Times
1. Comfort 1. Desire
2. Affirmation 2. Familiarity
3. Familiarity 3. Leadership
4. Community 4. Affirmation
5. Change 5. Scope
6. Desire 6. Comfort
7. Scope 7. Change
8. Leadership 8. Community

Desire(Good Times intensity 6.0 — Tough Times intensity 6.5 — Acceleration 8.0)

In good times, the most important human motivator is Desire. It derives its power from its relationship with the other motivators. Simply taking into account the desires of the target audience that you seek to influence is not nearly enough to promise success. It is simply a starting point. A traditional usage and attitudinal study (U&A Study) can discover what people need or want and the results are then used to create messaging that fulfills those desires. However, there is a more powerful means to understand and use this dynamic — one that will make it useful to you as a predictor of success and as a tool to understand past successes or failures in the marketing metrics.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, the fulfillment of desires is defined as “What I Want.” In tough times, it is defined as “What I Need.” Comparing the relative importance of each definition in good or tough times demonstrates why the benefit you offered in relative good times will not resonate as important in tough times. As a general rule, all intensities are increased in tough times and each of the prime motivators is realized as more important. But understanding the nuances is critical in the marketing metrics because it’s what makes the difference between surviving in tough times. In this case, that means your message must be about “need,” not “want.”     Think of it this way: In tough times, you “need” products to simply do their job. In good times, you “want” something more. In tough times, we simply need coffee, so you accept the one at the grocery store. In good times, you want Starbucks. And thus, you have a predictor of what Starbucks is currently going through unless they adapt their communications to the particular nuance.

Familiarity (Good Times intensity 5.0 — Tough Times intensity 7.0 — Acceleration of 6.40)

All communicators understand how important familiarity is to any idea, product, or service because if someone is unfamiliar with that product or service they are less likely to adopt it as a new behavior. Familiarity is also linked to top-of-mind awareness in the marketing metrics but even that is misunderstood. It is not so much about the familiarity of the brand or product, but what is it about that brand or product that makes it feels familiar and at ease.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, the fulfillment of familiarity is defined as “What is Easy.” In tough times, it is defined as “What is Safest.” That is, in good times, consumers are looking to what makes things easy for them, even if its outcome may have risks. In tough times, risk is less accepted. Safe feels familiar to audiences now because it offers a refuge that may herald back to nostalgia.

Seeking the Familiar - predict the success of marketing

For example, when you are thirsty in good times, you might choose what is “easy.” That is, we might grab what is most available. In tough times, we seek “safest,” meaning we might inconvenience ourselves and go somewhere else for something that is healthier or cheaper.

Leadership (Good Times intensity 4.0 — Tough Times intensity 5.0 — Acceleration of 7.0)

When we think about leadership as a human motivator in the marketing metrics we are not talking about taking the lead on something as we might in geopolitical terms. We are talking about leadership in terms of responsibility — meaning, “Who takes the responsibility for this action?” It is an internal question asked by everyone before they take any action.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, from the point of view of the target audience, the fulfillment of Leadership is defined as “My Responsibility” (the consumer) and in tough times it is defined as “Your Responsibility” (the brand). In good times, audiences are more than happy to assume the responsibility because the risks are fewer. Once the element of risk has become more threatening, however, audiences want the responsibility to fall to the experts (or communicator of the message).

Leadership in good and tough times - predict the success of marketing

As strange at it may sound, according to the marketing metrics, we listen to experts more in tough times.  Even if they were the ones who let us down in good times. That’s because the responsibility has shifted. Choice, as we will examine more closely in Scope, becomes less of a motivator.

Affirmation (Good Times intensity 3.0 — Tough Times intensity 7.0 — Acceleration of 6.99)

One of the ways human beings seek meaning is by looking for affirmation in their choices. Consumers wish to make sure that all of their actions are somehow affirmed as “being correct.” As a primary human motivator – regardless of culture, product and category – everyone that your brand or marketing message contacts are seeking this sense of affirmation and certainty.

predict the success of marketing

Without this value in the marketing metrics, target audiences gravitate towards inaction: A refusal to make a choice or fall back into a habit of what “I have always done.” This is a surefire way to assure continued market dominance by the category leader. It means that if we do not provide our audiences with a sense of affirmation, little or no change will take place in the marketplace and the market leader will continue to benefit from this inaction.

Seeking Correctness - predict the success of marketing

In good times, the fulfillment of Affirmation is defined as making the Best Choice and in tough times it is defined as making the Right Choice. For example, in good times, we will look for the best choice in automobiles, something that is top of the line or sporty fits us best. In tough times, we look for those things that are right, such as a hybrid or something more economical. The world, in a way, has determined that it’s right. Talking about the choices consumers make in terms of affirming they have made the right choice makes your messages more meaningful in a difficult economic climate.

Scope (Good Times intensity 3.0 — Tough Times intensity 5.0 — Acceleration 7.75)

Scope is one the most complex of the human motivators in the marketing metrics. When we consider Scope, we see it in terms of how large audiences want their considered set to be. This is related to the other motivators, such as leadership or the transfer of the responsibility of the decision to others. What we seek to understand in looking at scope is what gives the customer or prospect permission to include the scope of either your product or category into their consideration.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, the fulfillment of Scope is defined as having many choices and in tough times it is defined as having precision and more focus. In good times, audiences seek a wide scope, with lots of choices. In tough times, we are looking for “right,” so more focus is needed. Our considered set is smaller and we often give expert advice more weight. This, for example, is why Borders (which is all about choice) found it difficult to survive in a difficult economic climate.

Defining Scope - predict the success of marketing

Comfort (Good Times intensity 2.0 — Tough Times intensity 9.0 — Acceleration 9.18)

Human beings seek comfort no matter the situation, but the intensity surrounding it is much stronger depending on that situation.

predict the success of marketing

According to the marketing metrics, in good times, Comfort is simply accepted as the norm. In tough times, it is actively sought. In good times, most of us feel that we already have comfort so a comfort message is relatively meaningless. In tough times, however, comfort is no longer a given. Therefore, we seek it and a comfort promise – instead of achieving, which has risks – resonates. Note the differences in intensities with this motivator within the two situations. It is only a 2.0 on a 10-point scale in good times. In tough times, it’s a 9.0 with one of the highest rates of acceleration among all the motivators.

Comfort in the ability to predict the success of marketing

Change (Good Times intensity 1.5 — Tough Times intensity 7.0 — Acceleration of 6.99)

The longing for human beings to be in control is a prime motivator. It is within the dynamic of change in the marketing metrics that the need for control becomes most evident. When we think about change as a key persuasive human motivator, we actually think about it as a barrier than as an attraction. The changing situation determines its intensity.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, the resistance to Change is simply uncomfortable and in tough times it is outright feared. Therefore, in tough times, change messages should be softened, otherwise they will feel to audiences like a loss of control.

Perception of change -predict the success of marketing

Community (Good Times intensity 1.0 — Tough Times intensity 7.0 — Acceleration 9.31)

Community in the marketing metrics, refers to the acceptance of the community that affirms our existence and is related to Affirmation. It represents the wish of all human beings to be part of an affirmed group. Very few people are capable of acting as completely independent individuals. Therefore, for the vast majority of people we wish to influence, we must understand the importance of community and the acceptance that community offers.

predict the success of marketing

In good times, the fulfillment of Community is simply about the individual and in tough times it is satisfied through the safety of numbers. In good times, you can risk going it alone – being a leader, a rebel, etc. – because there is less at stake. In tough times, there is too much at risk in going it alone, so you seek safety in a community or being a part of a group.

Seeking Community - predict the success of marketing

Maketing Metrics Summary

Companies and their brands have reached the point in which their communications must change in order to survive in such a changing market. The marketing metrics of the Comprehensive Model for Persuasive Human Communications allows them to alter their messaging so that it becomes more meaningful in context. If nobody adapts to the current context, the default choice will always be the market leader. But the situation actually presents an opportunity for those chasing the market leader (as well as for the market leaders themselves) that reaches target audiences so deeply it causes action. How the primary human motivators are addressed will become the difference between who survives and who doesn’t.

Definitions COMPREHENSIVE MODEL FOR PERSUASIVE HUMAN COMMUNICATIONS: A mathematical model that measures the impact changing conditions have on emotional intensities of primary human motivators. The model can be used to predict and formulate messages for brands that will resonate most strongly with target audiences.

INTENSITIES: The relative strength of human motivators expressed as a ranking on a 10-point scale based on the particular attributes examined by the model. ACCELERATION: The rate of change for the intensity of a human motivator from one state to another, measured on a 10-point scale.

VALUE OF MESSAGE CHANGE: A mathematical representation using intensity and acceleration to predict the value in terms of its overall impact on each motivator.


Download a Power Point Presentation of motivational-Cues and how to predict the success of marketing messages here.pptx
Download a PowerPoint presentation of motivational-Cues and how to predict the success of marketing messages on the link below

Download a Power Point Presentation of motivational-Cues and how to predict the success of marketing messages here.pptx

How to predict the success of marketing messages as a PDF may be downloaded here.

Branding Agencies. A list of our competitors

Other Branding Agencies and Branding Companies

branding agencies
We cut through the crap

Stealing Share is an eponymously named branding company at the top of list of elite branding agencies.

But, we are SO different from those traditional branding agencies.

If you dig deeply into our web site we spend a great deal of time explaining how we do what we do. We know we are not for everyone.

Some brands prefer to hear the same old crap and hire cheerleaders rather than us.

So we have also complied a list of of branding agencies that each promise to regurgitate meaningless cliches and the usual drivel. Each company is described using their own words. You can’t make this stuff up.

branding agencies
Rebranding needs to be persuasive

Addison Whitney Addison Whitney is a global branding firm with a passion for building strong brands. We specialize in verbal and visual branding, brand strategy and research. Everything we do is based on a strategic and engaging process that will help you create, renew or strengthen your brand.”

Anagrama Anagrama is  an international branding, architecture and software development firm with offices in Monterrey and Mexico cCity. Our clients include companies from varied industries in countries all around the world.

Art. Lebedev Studio Founded in Moscow in 1995, art. Lebedev studio is the only design company in the world offering product design, city environment design, graphic design, websites, interfaces, packaging, interior design, typeface design, custom patterns, illustrations, and book publishing under one roof.

Bliss and Tell Branding Company Capturing the bliss of your business so others will tell about your business

Brand Fever Our hybrid team works to build brand value and distinction. We push the boundaries of marketing channels, creating engaging experiences online and offline. We execute with insight-driven creative excellence that transforms touch points into measurable results.

Brand Union We are a global brand agency with deep expertise in brand strategy, design, interaction, brand management and employee engagement. 500 people. 24 offices. Every major market. We have been part of wpp group since 1986.”

Brandingbusiness The leading brand strategy firm dedicated to building b2b brands

Brands for the Heart An online branding agency for startups

BULLDOGDRUMMOND We are students of people and their behaviors. We bring grounded business strategy and creative design thinking together to solve our client’s biggest challenges. And we look at the world from these two very unique points of view to develop uncommon brands, products and experiences that create real value.

Catchword Branding It’s about breadth, ingenuity, and sheer volume (usually 2000+ names per project!). Our creative process is our naming company’s secret sauce. Shhh.

Cato Partners We tell our global clients’ stories.

Our competitors
List of the expected branding agencies

CBX We don’t just build brands, we create relationships. Others appreciate passion, we inspire it. Design is at the core of everything we do but connection is the heart that fuels our passion. We make connection more intelligent, emotional and fascinating. We build it, analyze it and continue to redefine it. We seek to discover ever-growing and evolving ways to connect. This means connecting with people in new, creative, innovative and purposeful ways wherever they work, travel and live. It is with this in mind that we get up every day to work on the complex challenges facing our clients’ businesses.

Chase Design Group Chase design group is a creative agency dedicated to achieving client success through innovative strategy and breakthrough design. We believe that great design can have a direct positive effect on our client’s business results. Our award-winning work spans research, brand strategy, corporate and product identity design, packaging and retail environments. Our team crafts effective solutions with an impeccable aesthetic – solutions that are compelling to the end consumer and produce tangible results. We think that’s what great design is all about.

Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv is the brand design firm behind many of the world’s most recognizable trademarks. Since 1958, the firm has pioneered the modern movement of idea-driven graphic design across every discipline, specializing in brand identities, exhibitions, print and motion graphics, and art in architecture.

Cognition A branding agency leveraging the power of brand strategy, advertising, marketing, web design, and mobile app development, to create a comprehensive advantage that helps our clients better compete.

Corebrand  Helps companies understand, craft, measure and leverage the essence of their corporate brands.

Emotive Branding  Time to rethink how your brand makes people feel.

Flux Branding Better branding. For a changing world.

Futurebrand We are the creative future company. Our job is to help you create the future for your brand and business. (Click here to read about one of Futurebrand’s proudest moments)

Igor A naming agency

Interbrand Creating and managing brand value

Koda A strategic branding and marketing firm, our specialty is developing premium and upscale brands. Our approach is graceful yet voracious. While that means different things to different clients, they all agree on this: koda delivers results far beyond the scope of traditional marketing.

Kudzu Branding  Kudzu Branding Co. Was created specifically for growing businesses. We believe that beautiful design, a well-laid plan and a strong brand ”

Labbrand labbrand is a leading china-originated brand consultancy. Landor is creative branding. We help the world’s best brands stand up, stand out, and stand for something.

Leap branding This is the age of the brand. People interact with them through multiple touchpoints: pixel, physical, verbal. Their synthesis—the new, more complete whole they make together—is how brands are perceived.

Lee branding Consumer-centric marketing for complex brands.

Lexicon branding  Brand names that sell.

Lippincott We see brand as opportunity

Liquid Agency We are a brand experienced agency

Mark Corporate Branding  We believe that a brand is the heart of the matter.

Matchstic Igniting Passionate Brands is a guide for brands who are looking to rekindle their passion or spark the first flame. It outlines some of Matchstic’s most important branding philosophies and practices—ideas that have been honed over our 11 years.

Motto  Today, we create motto’s for our clients to serve as a rallying call — a statement that encapsulates the beliefs and principles that will guide their company.

loogie We help our clients discover their authentic story and find their true voice, all to make their brands clear, compelling, and consistent. We do it by creating powerful experiences across all media, including digital and video. The result? Over time, brands are better known, better understood, and truly unique.

Pentagram Pentagram is the world’s largest independent design consultancy. The firm is owned and run by 19 partners, a group of friends who are all leaders in their individual creative fields.

Proof Branding We explore possibility and achieve stellar results through a well-defined branding process.

Branding agenciesProphet Prophet is a strategic brand and marketing consultancy with offices around the globe. We deliver inspired and actionable ideas that help our clients win in the marketplace. What counts: our collaborative spirit. Our innovative problem solving approach. Our powerful blend of strategy, creativity, and analytics. Our ability to balance your short-term business needs against longer-term growth goals. Our network of business leaders. Our thought leadership in brand, marketing, and beyond. It’s led to successful outcomes for such preeminent clients as bmw, cisco, ge, johnson and johnson, kellogg’s, mcdonald’s, the cosmopolitan, visa, and zurich financial.

Purely Branded  Purely branded is a boutique strategic communications agency focused on delivering sharp brand, digital and marketing solutions that make the most of every dollar in our clients’ budgets.

R&M  Branding agencies, we’re into emotionally pulling customers to companies by grounding our creative ideas in customer-centric truths

SALT Branding  Salt forms strategic partnership with global communications leader WE (formerly Waggener Edstrom)

Savage Brands We approach projects differently from most agencies, and we call it savage thinking®. It’s a strategy, a mindset, a way of working and seeing the world that leads to lasting results.

Scout Branding Company We generate lots of ideas that can be applied across all of the brand components and with your approval, we will execute these ideas. Ad agencies simply craft ads.

Siegel+Gale Making brands different and relevant

Some Odd Pilot Someoddpilot is a branding agency and design studio. Our pursuit is simply this: to tell your story with truth and larger than life vision.

Switch  Liberate your brand— support targeted, immersive experiences.

The Brand Institute  Brand Institute is the world’s premier brand identity consultancy. Our brand agency portfolio of services includes brand strategy/architecture, name development, market research, regulatory and visual identity solutions.

Branding agenciesThe Branding Company The Branding Company offers you a partnership. We want to work with you to grow your business and make your projects and events as successful and profitable as they can be. … because we care! Creating and offering innovative promotional products & programs that work is what the branding company delivers – our customers come first! Our infrastructure offers the support to deliver branded promotional programs, full service creative advertising and custom design, complete print on demand capabilities, warehousing and fulfillment along with incentive initiatives that are measurable and executable. With more than 30 + years of experience in the promotional management area, tbc can ensure the success of your promotional experience.

Total Identity Brands fit for the future

Trone Brand Energy A full-service integrated advertising and digital agency dedicated to spreading brands’ energy.

Tungston From the initial name development to the matching web site and collateral design, we’ll work with you and your team to create a cohesive brand that communicates your message.

UTA Brand Studio An unwavering focus on creating and sustaining brand attachment.

Want Branding Want branding is a leading independent brand development agency offering world-class capabilities and 20 years’ experience in new brand creation, naming and brand evolution.

Wolff Olins We help ambitious leaders invent the future by reinventing their business or category.

This is just a few of the branding agencies that will apply be your partner for your branding needs. However, if one of your branding needs is to grow your market share all the branding agencies combined lack our experience and focus.

A Line in the Sand

We talk about our in-house brand research company and our research methodology. We talk about our brand behavioral modeling and our brand strategy development.

Branding agenciesWe explain that our brand creative and design capabilities are focused on executing a strategy that delivers the foundation needed to steal market share.

We speak to how important brand training is to your success.

We speak differently than other branding agencies across the globe because we ARE different from other branding agencies. We talk the talk and we walk the walk.

Our process is based upon scientific underpinnings that consistently deliver projectable results. We can tell you exactly what prospect behaviors your brand strategy will effect.

Other branding agencies leave that to others. We believe you should have a predictive model toto measure your brand’s persuasive ability.

The Socratic method is our best friend. As a result we ask tough questions and we follow them up with more questions.

Our goal is to eliminate the suppositions and preconceived answers that often accompany the category experience that most branding agencies brag about.

Is Our Culture a Match with Your Culture

(What are you looking for in Branding Agencies?

Which brings this short treatise to a point. Attitude. We can be difficult to work with because we are a meritocracy.

We know the best argument should always win and we absolutely hate sacred cows. As a result, our clients are aggressive too.

Branding agencies
Our clients are just like us

They don’t suffer fools easily and they appreciate critical thought and directness. We believe candor saves everyone a lot of time.

Other branding agencies are more interested in making you happy rather than fighting to make you better.

So we are not for everyone. We might not be for you. As a convenience, we created a list of branding agencies and branding companies that compete with us.

Demand clarity from their purpose. Your prospects demand it of you.

Maybe, just maybe, what branding agencies say about themselves is more important than they think. It says who they are, what they do, and why it is important.


Click here to read an interesting article on the brand of you

Here are a few internal links that speak to branding agencies, branding companies and the process of hiring an agency that you might find interesting.

Using advertising or branding agency search consultants

Agencies that solve the wrong problem

Change your ad agency OR fix your brand



A Critical Look at Spotify

By Tom Dougherty

Spotify ushers in a new form of brand

At Stealing Share, we have a deep appreciation for companies seeking to be different and better than their competition. Regardless of the category or its size, businesses always have the capacity to be unique. They have the ability to fully embrace their customers. And, perhaps over time, their particular customers may come to covet them (we do hope) thus forming a cemented brand. 

We’ve chosen to take a critical look at the streaming music resource, Spotify. We’ve been very impressed with Spotify as they seem to be taking a wise approach to the streaming music experience. Will they be iTunes killers? Well, we’re not taking things quite that far yet. But we do believe with the right branding, Spotify could become the second best streaming music site on the web and maybe one day, the first. 

What is The Spotify Brand?

Spotify branding is tied to its future
Spotify is in a highly competitive category

Much like streaming music sites like Rhapsody, Napster or Pandora, the Swedish born “Spotify is a DRM-based music streaming service offering streaming of selected music from a range of major and independent record labels, including Sony, EMI, Warner Music Group, and Universal.”

Just recently released in the United Stares, The Spotify brand has an amazing wealth of music that users can access through a plethora of technological vehicles. For example, you can easily log into the Spotify system from your computer and use their internet-based interface, which is reminiscent to iTunes (you can even upload the entirety of your music catalog to the Spotify interface, thus enabling you to completely forgo iTunes, should you wish. Or, if you desire to access Spotify from a phone or tablet, Spotify has apps that can be downloaded so you can access the service anywhere. 

Spotify needs to remain current and involved
Spotify plays a strategic game

As stated in the company’s description, Spotify branding works hand-in-hand with both a diverse and large group of indispensable music labels, offering users a sizable database to choose from. Unlike the trendsetter iTunes, a music store where one has to pay $.99 to own a song or $7.99 and up per album, Spotify offers Premium monthly memberships of only ten dollars. With this membership-based program, users can stream any and as many songs as they wish. The only downside is these songs and albums are not yours to keep. Spotify is more like a library, where as long as you pay your membership, you can keep your books for as long as you like. Additionally, full albums and user created playlists can be saved and accessed at anytime. What’s more, music can be streamed at a high bit-rate, giving users a truly vivid sonic experience. 

Spotify, at a quick glance, seems more in tune to user preferences than the other music-streaming giant, Pandora. Pandora, for those readers not aware, is a free, streaming, radio service. With Pandora, one can log on and select an artist or song you wish to hear. Once established, Pandora selects songs from that chosen artist, as well as other similar artists (as specifically selected and categorized by Pandora). Spotify, on the other hand, gives users complete and exacting choice. 

With Spotify, users can specifically select a song or artist they wish to hear, and that very song or artist will be played, not an assortment of similar artists. Pandora is more of a crapshoot, while Spotify gives you immediate gratification.  This then is very beneficial for the avid music listener.

The Genesis of Spotify

A company with, as we see it, such a smart approach to the music experience does not simply bloom and flower overnight. As stated, Spotify was born overseas in Sweden, where it was launched in 2008. 

As has been reported from the Spotify Blog:

The Spotify application was launched for public access on 7 October 2008. While free accounts still remained available by invitation only in order to manage the growth rate of the service, the launch meant that paid subscriptions were opened to everyone (We’ve only just begun! Spotify AB blog. 7 October 2008.)

The first step towards offering free accounts to the public without an invitation was taken on 10 February 2009, when Spotify opened for free registration in the UK (Spotify now available to everyone in the UK. Spotify blog. 10 February 2009). 

Due to a surge in registrations following the release of the Spotify mobile service, Spotify closed its open registrations in the UK for part of 2009, and went back to an invitation-only policy.( 

Following a series of promising years where new investors, subscription programs and awards for the program had been won, Spotify launched their US service in July, 2011. At this juncture, the company was already assessed at one billion dollars. And with the seemingly strong interest in the company, that revenue may continue to rise. 

What exactly is Spotify’s Brand? 

Whenever analyzing a brand, we must first consider “who” the customer believes they are when using that specific product. It’s also wise to contemplate how we perceive that same customer wishes to be perceived by others when using that aforementioned product. That said; let’s apply this specific branding scenario to Spotify.

As onlookers, we believe people who use Spotify are serious about music — and they believe themselves to be serious music listeners. Adding to this, these users are looking for a better alternative to iTunes and I speculate, they believe they have found that alternative with Spotify.

Yet, why would these users think that? Why would Spotify possibly be a better music answer than iTunes? First, using Spotify as a Premium user is ultimately cheaper, $10 a month. This is very cheap for the serious music listener. With this small monthly investment, the music aficionado has immediate access to nearly any song they wish (minus the Beatles and a handful of others) at a high bit rate, 320 kbps, in fact. This, as the Spotify website details is, “some high fidelity.” See, Spotify recognizes that the music lover (or, the music “snob”) cares about that high fidelity and it is a worthy selling point. Moreover, Spotify boasts exclusive content like early album releases to Premium members. Which again, to the music purist, the full album listener, relishes in. 

In a nutshell, Spotify’s brand is about convenience and premium music for the serious music listener. 

What then, is Spotify doing well?

Spotify seems to understand that they are the web and app based option for music enthusiasts. It’s clear that this message is resonating with users too (Spotify now reports being assessed at one billion dollars). 

When it was released in North America, Spotify did something interesting, they made their content available only to invited users. By doing this, Spotify created instant intrigue amongst potential users as potential users desired to be a part of the Spotify network.  This was a classic case of supply and demand, thus by limiting supply, the initial demand for Spotify seemed immense. 

Additionally, Spotify has created a simple to navigate interface on the web and also as a downloadable app for phones and tablets. On each, users can easily import their pre purchased musical MP3 catalog. Users can also search through an overabundance of albums and songs, and save selected songs and albums as playlists that can be accessed at anytime. 

For those that care about simplicity, these attributes are highly favorable. 

What is Spotify doing poorly?

It’s hard to pick apart a company that seems to be doing so much so well. But, we do believe Spotify is making a few blatant mistakes. Incidentally, we believe that there is room for Spotify to grow and become more of a household name in the way iTunes is. 

We believe there is something to be said for owning music. While there are hordes of torrent sites and illegal music options, people at the end of the day, inherently want to do the right thing and not “steal” music. Yet, with Spotify, there is the sense that you are only “renting” your music and that when all is said and done (say, if you were to cancel you membership) you have to give it all back. 

This is a problem and is why similar but less successful sites like Rhapsody, Napster and eMusic have never really competed with iTunes. 

Why is that?

People want to own their personal brand, not rent it. Music is, for many, a major facet in self-identification — as to physically or digitally own the music that makes people “who they are” is indeed a significant feature. It’s why iTunes is such a powerhouse in the music industry and essentially, the leader of the category. iTunes allows users to purchase their music, which is a brilliant thing. Users are provided with an elegant interface where their owned music will remain with them forever. 

What matters is owning music and Spotify is missing this mark. They have miscalculated our need to possess our brand, to catalog our music and keep it for the entirety of our lives if we so wish.

As much as having a Spotify’s Premium membership is significant, and being able to make playlists and stream music whenever and wherever; ultimately the music is not the users. It is Spotify’s and that is not a positive thing for the brand. 

What we suggest for Spotify:

Maintain the position of being the music site for music purists:

Spotify is making wise marketing decisions. Solidifying their site as one for musical purists is an intelligent move. Such users can appreciate that through Spotify you can locate intimate concert recordings, as well as standard EP and LP studio recordings. By having many options Spotify keeps the music junkies of the world satiated.

Don’t try to be the next iTunes:

Spotify, please remember this mantra: “you will never beat the market leader by doing exactly what it is that the market leader doing”; these actions simply solidify your position as a runner-up. Spotify must be uniquely different from iTunes, eMusic, Napster, Amazon and Rhapsody in order to have continued success.

For example, iTunes maintains high audible quality and a song catalog that you must purchase. Spotify has the same high audio quality but they are lacking in interface structure. This could easily be enhanced. As of now, saved playlists, albums and artist files are not alphabetized (via web or smart phone app), nor is search-ability categorized for any kind of user convenience. If Spotify can improve their interface so that it flows with an intuitive and logical sense or order, a sense of musical ownership would be felt by users.

Improve your name:

We cannot deny the fact that the Spotify is a hideous name and lacks any significant meaning for their brand. As has been told by the companies CEO, Derek Ek:

This again takes us back to my flat that I had out in the suburbs of Stockholm. Martin and I were sitting in different rooms shouting ideas back and forth of company names. We were even using jargon generators and stuff. Out of the blue Martin shouted a name that I misheard as Spotify.

I immediately Googled the name and realized there were no Google hits for the word at all. A few minutes later we registered the domain names and off we went.

We were a bit embarrassed to admit that’s how the name came up so our after construction was to say that Spotify stems from SPOT and IDENTIFY.

Sure, this is cute story any integrity behind Spotify’s name is lacking feeling and personal identification.

Spotify is a young enough company in the music service game that they have the breathing room to improve their name. They can and should find a name rename that properly represents them. Currently, Spotify simply misses the mark.

In closing, Spotify has the potential for great success. With proper focus and differentiation, they can compete with iTunes. More importantly, they can carve a nuanced niche in the DRM-based music service marketplace and find great success in the years to come.

Visit Spotify by clicking here

Read about entertainment brands here

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Branding Investment Services – TD Ameritrade Wins!

Branding Investment Services means Trouble On Wall Street

By Tom Dougherty

branding investment services TD AmeritradeInvestment companies and brokerage houses are ripe for the picking and TD Ameritrade is looking more and more like the grim reaper. It is easy to look at a market caught up in its own outdated business models where Merrell Lynch, Bear Sterns, A.G. Edwards, and the other old school financial services companies desperately hold onto their top-heavy fee structure while leaner competitors like Fidelity, T. Rowe Price and Schwab re-write the rule books.

As the market migrates towards these discount brokerages, the majority of the players are missing the REAL sea change threatening to wash over them like a tsunami.

Investment Services Category Failure

The entire category believes that the customer will choose based on price comparisons and as a result, they are marketing their companies as the “low cost” provider or they spend ad dollars demonstrating the “added value” that they deliver…a superior service that justifies higher prices, higher commissions and hard to justify commission schedules. In the knowledge age that has swept over their customers in the past 15 years, information is hard to hide.

hero-pricing branding investment services TD AmeritradeThe airline industry is experiencing just such a conundrum as passengers are able to see… right on their very own computer monitor, a plethora of choices and the arbitrage that seems to benefit everyone but the passenger themselves.

branding investment services TD Ameritrade logo markIn the world of investment services and brokerages…”a trade is a trade” and customers are finding it harder and harder to justify anything more than a small flat fee. What is wrong with this picture and why is TD Ameritrade poised to begin eating everyone’s lunch? The answer is quite simple. It can be found in the brand promise not in the details of their pricing.

The Fatal Error when Branding Investment Services

Everyone, with just the one out exception talks about themselves in their brand messages. It promises the customer that they have the expertise to guide them, that they have all the services they need and that they are fairly priced. Just a few short years ago, TD Waterhouse (before its merger with Ameritrade) was promising much the same.  This campaign with Sam Waterston built the brand position.


The NEW TD Ameritrade has awakened and has seized the high ground in the battle for the investment category market share. They still mention the amenities that are very much “table stakes” within the category but they surround these messages in the visage of the customer themselves.


They answer the brand question of “Who am I when I use TD Ameritrade?” Instead of harping on all of their non-differentiating amenities and services, they lay claim to the very heart and soul of the investor themselves…The INDEPENDENT investor and his fast track to


TD Ameritrade Has The High Ground

Old-TD-Waterhouse that built the brandBy identifying the customer as the primary differentiator, all of the services and amenities take on new importance. They resonate with greater clarity because they have a raison d’etre. Good news for TD Ameritrade, bad news for the rest of the category.

Branding to grow market share demands that you out smart your competitors and position yourself around the hopes and dreams of those you wish to influence. TD Ameritrade is off to a blazing head start… and they might just have the best playing field as well. (Read a detailed market study on the financial category here)