Archives For Business

The brand marketing and publishing landscape has changed radically in recent years. Traditional print and broadcast companies have seen their business models disrupted by the internet and social media. Brands, through content marketing and social media are thinking and acting like media companies. Red Bull is one example that comes to mind. Brands are now recognizing that Ad campaigns come and go. Stories endure. Stories attract attention and build an audience that contributes to the conversation and builds consumer engagement.

To quote Pulitzer Price Winning Author and Historian Studs Terkel, “People are hungry for stories. Its part of our very being. Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another”.

As the distinction between brands and publishers becomes increasingly blurred so does the lines between content and commerce. Great content marketing isn’t just about promoting your product or service; it’s about providing a platform for action. The brands that stand out foster genuine community and inspire action around a bigger cause.

One brand that has flourished in this new world is TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). TED is global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading”. TED has created a viral platform for global thought leadership by tapping into people’s innate curiosity and leveraging the power of quality content.


“By combining the principles of radical openness and of leveraging the power of ideas to change the world, Ted is in the process of creating something brand new. I would go so far as to argue that it’s creating a new Harvard – the first top prestige education brand in more than 100 years”. – Anya Kamentz Fast Company

TED’s Mission Statement reads as follows:

“We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinking and a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other”.

TED was founded in 1984 as a one-off event. The annual conference began in 1990. Presentations address a wide range of topics including research, innovation, science and culture presented in a storytelling format. The speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways. Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Seth Godin to name a few.

Since 2006, the talks have been offered for free viewing online. Its Ted’s embrace of technology to distribute video that makes it stand apart.

One of my favorite TED talks is Simon Sinek “How Great Leader Inspire Action”. Sinek’s main point is that People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. When you have 18 minutes it is well worth watching.

Can you think of any traditional Product Based Brands that have transformed themselves into Media Companies? 


August is a time for travel and vacations. With limited vacation time, travelers are looking to plan the perfect trip with the best experience. Consumers are searching for the latest information to help them make the right decisions on attractions, hotels, flights and restaurants. Fifteen years ago consumers relied on frontline staff and travel agents to help them make decisions and understand their travel choices. The flaw in that approach was that most travel agents had visited only a limited number of destinations. Today consumers are turning to online review sites like TripAdvisor to get information on what’s good and what’s not from people just like them – consumers who have visited the destination they are considering.


TripAdvisor was founded by in 2000 by Stephen Kaufer and Langley Steinert in 2000. TripAdvisor is now the largest travel web site in the world with over 230 million unique visitors monthly. TripAdvisor has over 100 million travel reviews. More than 70 new reviews are posted every minute. In a few short years TripAdvisor has become the number one brand in travel. They have done that by providing consumer’s easily accessible and useful information. TripAdvisor has become an essential tool for travelers.

In his book CTRL-ALT- DELETE, Mitch Joel talks about the importance of brands needing to become more useful in consumer’s lives. “It about providing true value and utility: something that consumers not only would want to use – constantly and consistently – but would derive so much value from it that it would be given front and center attention in their lives”.

TripAdvisor’s mission is to help travelers around the world plan the perfect trip. TripAdvisor helps consumers in all steps of the travel purchase process from initial dreams, to planning and booking, when you are on the trip and sharing your experiences when you get home. TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real travelers and a wide variety of travel choices and planning features with links to booking tools. Mark Di Somma in a recent post on Brand Strategy Insider referred to consumer review sites as the new brand managers. 

I am a big fan of TripAdvisor especially the mobile app. I always consult TripAdvisor before booking or eating in a new restaurant when I travel. I have  posted reviews on TripAdvisor of hotels that I have stayed at and restaurants when I have eaten. I benefit from the time and thoughtful reviews, so I think it is important to give back and share my perspective. 

2012-08-11 19.07.14

TripAdvisor has a great business model. They leverage the collective input of millions of unpaid reviewers to provide the best travel information on the internet. The reviews generate advertising and cost per click referrals.

The consumer travel market remains very competitive. Google’s $700 million acquisition of Cambridge-based ITA and more recent acquisition of travel content leader, Frommers, is an indicator that others are in pursuit of TripAdvisor’s core business and profit margins.

Do you use TripAdvisor to plan your vacation?

An interesting brand marketing battle will unfold later this summer and fall in the cable sports television category. It will feature Fox Sports 1 which launches August 17th, versus ESPN. Both will compete for the attention of serious sports fans.

Fox Sports 1 is a 24-hour network that will feature live sports events, news shows and studio programs. Fox’s goal is to develop a unique brand and personality for Fox Sports 1 that is different from ESPN. Fox has described their positioning as “jockularity”. Their plan is for Fox Sports 1 to be the funny, irreverent, less serious sports channel. Fox’s research has shown that fans are growing tired of ESPN’s stat happy approach. Regis Philbin will host “Crowd Goes Wild” an hour-long interview show that will air daily at 5PM.


ESPN launched the first 24-hours sports channel in 1979. It has owned the cable sports business free from serious competition for years. Competitive efforts by CNNSI and NBC Sports Network failed to generate large audiences. ESPN is very profitable. It generates $9 billion a year in revenue for its parent company, Walt Disney. This is the first time a serious rival has emerged.

Personally, I have been dissatisfied with ESPN for years. I have grown tired of their antics, emphasis on trying to be clever and reporters who didn’t have their facts straight. For me, Bleacher Report has replaced as my go to site for breaking sports news. The sports news and broadcasting category is ripe for disruptive innovation.

Fox Sports, which was formed in 1994 has accumulated some impressive live programming assets for this battle. These assets include the NFL, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, Soccer, College Football and College Basketball. Fox has aggressively bid for sports programming rights in recent years often driving up the price.

This competition will be interesting to watch. It is always good to see new competition emerge in a category that has been dominated by one player. With the demand for sport programming and information robust, my hope is that it will spur continued innovation that will benefit fans.

Do you think that Fox Sports 1 will be successful as a 24-Hour All Sports Cable Network?

For NFL Fans, the month of July signals the beginning of a new season. Football is back even though it’s nearly always on fans minds. As usual, their will be a number of great stories and surprises. Most training camps start within a week. The start of the regular season is not far away.


Last Monday, Forbes announced its 2013 list of the world’s 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams. Thirty NFL teams made the list of the top 50. The Dallas Cowboys (5), New England Patriots (6), Washington Redskins (8) and the New York Football Giants (9) made the top ten list.  Only two NFL teams the St Louis Rams (51) Jacksonville Jaguars (52) failed to make the top 50. This speaks to the power of the NFL Brand and the strength of individual team brands. The NFL is clearly the most valuable sports league in the United States.

The NFL’s success is the result of strong brand management and ongoing communication with their fan base. The NFL has made a six-month season into a 12-month business and branding effort. The draft is a key part of the strategy as it bridges the gap between one season and next. It generates a huge amount of media and fan talk value. The draft has also become a huge revenue generator. Once the draft is over media attention shifts to signing the players, filling out the rosters and mini-camps. Football talk is always in season.

The NFL Brand has its challenges. Player concussions are a serious issue. The Aaron Hernandez case and other player arrests have created negative publicity for the brand. However, the brand is skilled at overcoming short terms challenges and continues to thrive and grow in value. There are many reasons for the success of the NFL Brand. I can’t possibly highlight all of them in one post. Listed below are some the reasons why the NFL has built a strong relationship with their existing fans and expanded to attract new fans.

  • Football is extremely advertising friendly. The game has natural stops and starts, a 60 minute game lasts three hours, leaving plenty of space for television advertising.
  • The league has created a major event with “Super Bowl Sunday” that attracts the largest television audience of the year.
  • The product is limited, there are only 16 regular season games. Your favorite team plays only once a week. Whether your teams wins or loses, most fans can’t wait till next Sunday.
  • The NFL owns Thanksgiving one of our country’s most important holidays.
  • Football is an exciting experience. From watching the games with friends and family, to the NFL’s website, NFL Mobile and the Madden NFL Games, the brand creates an interactive experience.
  • The NFL creates memories that span generations. NFL Films allows fans to re-live past games. Giants fans love to re-live our Four Super Bowl Championships. We never tire of watching David Tyree’s catch in Super Bowl 42.
  • Fan’s love the game, not just their team. Fantasy Football and fast paced highlight shows have helped make the games fun to watch even if your team is struggling.
  • In recent years, the league has seen women grow to become over 44 percent of its fan base, with 60 percent of females over the age of 12 identifying themselves as NFL fans.

I have witnessed the NFL pass Major League Baseball as the most popular sport in the country. In many ways, it has displaced baseball as the sport American’s love. The NFL has a brand that means something deep to many football fans, whether they realize it or not.

Are you excited for football season to start? Who is your favorite team?


In the past couple of months, I have seen and written about a number of entrepreneurs who have developed and branded special and innovative products and services. Many of these products are locally inspired, high quality and target a very specific consumer segment. These brands tend to be small but they create a unique and personal customer experience. Their goal is not to be all things to all people. They leverage the heritage of a region and engage consumers on an emotional level. Their founders usually have a great story and are passionate about their business. In a world dominated by mega brands this is a refreshing trend.

I recently became aware of the Albany Distilling Company which was launched in October 2012. Albany Distilling is making the city’s first licensed whiskey since Prohibition ended in 1933. Albany Distilling was founded by Matt Jager and John Curtin. Albany Distilling opened in what was once the coal yard of the Albany Pump Station, a facility that was once used to pump water from the Hudson River to the Bleecker Reservoir.

Albany Distilling John and Matt

Their original plan was to open a bar but they were unable to obtain financing. Since both Jager and Curtin liked whiskey, they launched a plan to open a distillery. They visited other distilleries to learn about the operation and sample the product. They liked rye products and developed a commitment to use locally sourced ingredients. With the creation of the New York State’s Farm Distillery License, distillers who use New York State crops have a much easier time opening a distillery and self-distributing their craft products. Imagine the State of New York actually helping business development.

Albany Distilling has developed a number of products that celebrate Albany’s unique heritage. These products include “Ironweed Whiskey”, “Coal Yard New Make Whiskey” and “Quackenbush Still House Rum”.

John and Matthew also understood the importance of building a unique brand identity that would connect with consumers. They partnered with ID29 an innovative and creative Troy, New York based Brand and Communication Design Studio to develop their brand identity, logo, packaging and website. Albany Distilling has come to market with three key elements a unique creation story, great product and an appealing brand identity.

Albany Distilling is located at 78 Montgomery Street in downtown Albany.

Please let me know of any other small upstart locally inspired brands that I should write about.

On a recent trip through Minneapolis Airport, I had the opportunity to visit a Caribou Coffee store. I had heard a lot about Caribou but this was my first visit to one of their retail locations.


Caribou Coffee was founded in December of 1992 by Kimberly and John Puckett. The Caribou Coffee concept was created after the company’s founders backpacked through Alaska. On the summit of Sable Mountain in Denali Park, they decided they wanted to build a company to capture the spirit of accomplishment they felt during the climb. They began plans to build a special company that would bring the mountain experience into local neighborhoods where customers could find a place to “escape the daily grind” each and every day. On the descent, they saw a herd of wild caribou. The beauty and movement of these caribou seemed to be a fitting name for a company that aspired to both rapid growth and high quality. The company was founded with the intent of building a leading national specialty retailer in the high growth industry of gourmet coffee.

The pair moved to Minneapolis in the summer of 1992, following a six month analysis of potential markets. In addition to possessing positive demographics, the region was Kim’s home town. Her connections paved their way into the investment community and allowed the Pucketts to open their first coffeehouse that December in Edina.

The Pucketts opened their second shop in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. Site selection was critical to their success. A key ingredient for the success of the coffee shops was location, and the couple was determined to lock in good sites before Starbucks arrived on the scene.

Unlike other locally based competitors, Caribou Coffee purchased rather than roasted its own beans, choosing instead to concentrate on service and quality control. The mystery shopper was one technique they used to ensure good customer service.

While the Pucketts strived for product and customer service consistency from store to store, they also wanted each location to reflect the personality of the neighborhood. Their stores were staffed with people with a strong affinity to the local community. This helped create a unique feel and a strong customer fan base. The passion and spirit of a company’s founder is very powerful.

Caribou Coffee has expanded rapidly. Since opening, the chain has grown to over 500 locations in 22 states and the District of Columbia making it the second-largest operator of non-franchised coffeehouses in the United States, after Starbucks. This includes 24 licensed locations in the U.S. and two overseas markets. Caribou maintains its headquarters in the Minneapolis area. In 1998, the Pucketts sold their controlling interest in the company for $120 million to Atlanta-based Arcapita capital. In December, Caribou was purchased by the Joh A. Benckiser Group which also owns a majority stake in Peet’s Coffee and Tea.

Caribou recently announced the closure of 80 locations and the conversion of 88 stores to the Peet’s Brand. This elicited a very negative response from their fans in social media. This recent post on Facebook says it well:

“If you hadn’t shut down all Caribou locations within a 50 mile radius of Cincinnati I would be able to celebrate the hot weather. Now I’m just coffee-less and irritated and slightly sweaty”.  

Longer term it will be interesting to see how Benckiser, manages two brands in a category dominated by Starbucks. Will they be able to deliver a high quality customer experience that engages their fans?

Have you visited a Caribou Coffee’s location?

America’s Farmstand is an online virtual farmers market that sources all their product from small, responsibly run farms. The site offers organic, all-natural, pure farm-fresh artisanal foods, produce, dairy, meats and other fresh foods and beverages, available to be shipped directly from independently run family farms with out warehousing. Some of the featured products include Pearson Farm Fresh Georgia peaches, Balakian Farms Pink Oxheart organic blended heirloom tomatoes and New England Provisions Maine Lobsters.


America’s Farmstand was founded by Todd Greenfield in Stonington, Connecticut. Todd grew up on a small family owned farm in Southern Connecticut. The importance of agriculture, sustainable eating and how important local farming is to communities was ingrained in him at an early age. Over the years, Todd saw that family farms were being replaced by large commercial entities that weren’t sustainable for the environment and offered no real connection to the local land. After moving to the city, Todd discovered that their was a real disconnect between so many Americans and their food.


He started America’s Farmstand with one question in mind; ‘What if there were a way to get your vegetables, fruits, cheeses, organic meats and other fresh foods directly to the people who want them, rather than having them lose freshness traveling to—and sitting in warehouses for days before being transported to supermarkets? Todd was committed to doing things differently – absolutely no warehousing and an opportunity for foods to be enjoyed mere hours after harvest. America’s Farmstand makes it easier for families to get honest, farm fresh foods back on the dinner table.

Their mission is to empower consumers to change the way they source food. The company is guided by the following principles:

1. Provide access to honest, fresh foods from family farms
2. Encourage responsible farming and growing practices
3. Promote healthy, nutritious foods as the bedrock of a balanced diet
4. Perpetuate the humane treatment of animals and wild habitats.

As American’s become more concerned with local, healthy eating and sustainability there is a lot of new opportunities and innovations in food. There is an increasing desire for transparency in understanding where your food comes from and what role it plays in our general health and well-being. Food and rural agriculture is a potential growth opportunity in this country.

Where do you shop for fresh fruit and vegetables?