Which Little Pig Had the Better Marketing and Business Development Plan

Straw, sticks or brick: which little pig had the better marketing and business development plan?


Los Angeles branding consultant, brand strategist and copywriter Scott Silverman recently posted a condensed version of this “Three Little Pigs” marketing analogy on LinkedIn.

The straw business thinks in the immediate, and only in terms of the transactional and incremental. He/she most commonly asks, “Which marketing, sales and business development tactic should we be employing right this minute?” Chances of ever owning any meaningful marketplace position or identity are blowin’ in the wind.

The sticks business may exhibit more of a planning and building mindset, but “brand” is defined in terms of “who we are” and vanity exercises instead of the more mission-critical “what are our points of customer overlap.” The company enjoys a solid track record, boasts an enviable reputation among those who know it first-hand and entertains an optimistic vision for the future. It often finds itself under-noticed and relatively indistinguishable in the marketplace because its core messages don’t captivate, resonate or differentiate. It certainly possesses both values and a story, but nobody seems to have the time to take them out, dust them off and translate them into a rapt, cohesive, target-centric narrative.  In a sticks environment, the founder-entrepreneur or CEO’s vision and the company’s Unique Value Proposition have yet to be articulated in a way that resonates both internally and externally and so that it’s strong enough to withstand the huffing and puffing of tomorrow. Often, the company has become complacent, a victim of its own operations successes… but this alone won’t grow market share.

If the creation of customers doesn’t sit at your company’s core, I’d like to join you in asking the company’s leaders: what does?

The brick-solid business-grower, often a marketing performer or the founding entrepreneur him or herself, takes the time to ask the big, foundational questions and reverse-engineer both present and future marketplace success: why do we exist (see the Simon Sinek TedTalk, if you haven’t already), does our differentiation exist at a point of target relevance, what opportunities and future problems has drinking our own Kool-Aid® obscured from view, have we truly built Sales and our Sales Truths into the organization’s DNA, how do we better connect with the people that matter most to our sustainable success?

Brand-cracking isn’t about tools of reach. It’s about unleashing your power to reach.

When you’re a little pig hungry (hunger, humility & people smarts – see Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player) for increased leads, revenue and market share, it doesn’t take long to recognize that you’re first going to have increase interest, understanding and enthusiasm. To do that, you can take a myopic approach – thinking only about the next so-called “miracle” marketing tactic or your next campaign. Or, when what the company truly needs is far-reaching, sustainable interest, understanding and excitement, you can do what that wise third little pig did… and build your house in brick.

1.        You need to know your position is robust, salient and sustainable.

2.        You need to know you are defining the business in the way that best leverages your history while opening up maximum opportunity for your present and future.

3.        You need to know your key points of target intersect have been identified and that your core messages have been articulated.

4.        You need to build your vision, values and other sales truths into the brand’s foundational framework.

5.        Last, but certainly not least, you need to know every aspect of your brand has been processed through the lens of pragmatic business development, with a careful weighing of lower-hanging fruit in relation to big picture possibilities.

Genuine brand strategy (versus superficial cosmetics alone) is more than a proactive, contemporary way of viewing and growing the business; it’s a defensive hedge against dollars spent chasing the wrong, less than optimal position. And in a world teeming with competition, the thoughtfully-engineered brand also serves as warm and cozy shelter from the storm.

We, as marketers, are our organizations’ best and brightest hope when it comes to being best- in-category connectors and collaborators. We need to support each other when we encourage our employers and clients to join us in asking the tough questions, so that we can be equipped with the heavy-lifting tools we need to do our jobs growing the company.

Sharp, sophisticated people know that a business that is not engineered to sell is a business not engineered to grow. Building in brick means utilizing genuine branding to ensure the entire company operates as an engine of customer creation. Just as a great salesperson needs more than a come-on to run on, a company needs a brand. The straw and sticks of this or that tactic or this or that plan often only serve to create the illusion of action. They don’t endure, and they always wind up costing you a whole lot more in the long run. Building in brick means your unique promises, vision and values aren’t seasonal; you’ve taken the time to understand your target connections and your differentiators.

Stuck in a straw environment? Of course, we can empathize and identify with the need to create real-time results, but, should you ever get there (most don’t), will your structure ever support a second story? Communications tend to be arrested at the “what” of what we do and are often me-centric in their approach.

The sticks business-builder is both bright and engaged. But in the area of brand, he/she is often forced to think more in terms of creative executions (logos, websites, digital campaigns) than the relevancy of the company’s Unique Value Proposition, the finer points of creating a true brand personality or increasing marketing impact and efficiency simply by opening the company up to a fresh, objective perspective. They operate without a singular, commanding, charismatic voice with which to vivify the organization and breathe life into their unique promise. “Brand” tends to be viewed as a line-item or a marketing project, and not as a synonym for the business itself… as it ought to be. If there have been prior “branding” endeavors, they operated at a massive disconnect from pure and simple business development. Every day that passes as it continues to fund a fuzzy brand position or fails to stake proper claim to its hard-earned reputation, it leaves big money on the table. Worse, it compromises its future possibilities and also risks being eclipsed by a brand-savvy competitor.

Sticks communications may have even begun to address the “how” – the qualitative differences in our offerings, which is far better than straw, but results are still fleeting as no consistent resonance formula has been articulated. The position is off, soft or unclear and the emotional and experiential benefits have yet to be addressed. The brand often suffers from a fragmented, soulless, confusing marketplace identity. The company operates, sells and markets without a strategic brand framework in place; absent adequate briefs and a personality matrix to inform an engaging marketplace presence, no consistency or relatable human emotion can be expected. For too many startups and small businesses, dreams of a penthouse view over the competitive landscape, absent reliable soil studies, brand engineering and marketing architecture, remain dreams of a penthouse view.

But the brick-sworn business builder refuses to settle for Band-aid® solutions, insisting on a strategic foundation for the company that will withstand the tests of time (and wolves.) It is only at this level that a company can truly come into its own, galvanizing its customers, employees and other audiences by genuinely spelling out what’s in it for them, and by authentically celebrating their vision & values commonalities. Authenticity, transparency, values? It’s all very Millennial, right? Nope! Building relationships based upon vision and values resonance is Sales 101, and it has been, for quite some time. My bet: it ain’t going away anytime soon.

A business is its message. Is what you’re saying what your targets need to hear?

Building your house in brick means you’ve had sufficient marketing and general business experience to understand how perception management and the creation of customers truly happens. You know what you really want is not a series of one-note, one-off marketing tactics but an orchestrated concert. That’s why my job as a branding consultant isn’t simply to make you look pretty; the real challenge for the consummate brand strategist is to build the seeds of your customer connections into your brand’s every fiber. This way, every organizational action and every piece of communication can do a better job in helping you sing your company’s song.

Sing. This time, with feeling.

Not only does having a strong brand behind you increase performance on each initiative, but the cumulative impact is that you have established brand equity you can trade on in the future. When I say “trade on,” I mean anyone who thinks sales are made in the moment is simply kidding himself or herself. To be able to “trade on” accumulated brand equity means you understand that a Sale is not a moment in time, but a culminating event. What is the event? The transfer of trust. They have heard your uniquely beautiful song; your personality reinforces your credibility, your consistency bespeaks your integrity, your shared values bubble up in every piece of communications. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt! Your name is their name, too.

Should we, as marketers and business owners eager to accelerate growth and performance, settle for anything less than whip-smart, insightful strategy and marketing that is consistently grounded in positioning, operative messaging and the timeless truths of Sales? Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins.


Scott Silverman helps you brand because he wants to see you shine. He once read “The Three Little Pigs” cover-to-cover.

© 2018 Articulated Brands (310) 826-8518

Brands Use Storms to Show True Colors

Brands Use Storms to Show True Colors

Several brands have stepped up amidst these hurricanes and, in doing so, have reinforced their status as true leadership brands. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have undeniably brought tragedy and turmoil to those in their paths, but as I watched (too much of the) recent storm coverage, I was, of course, riveted by the scope of the disasters and found myself moved, almost surprisingly so, by the outpouring of corporate goodwill.

Now, obviously, the praise I’m about to lavish on these companies isn’t to diminish the work of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or the contributions of all of those everyday people, the family, friends and neighbors who simply put the welfare of others ahead of their own safety and comfort. Personal giving means more because, quite frankly, the sacrifice costs more and is felt more by the giver. Also, time and again, we’ve seen the “multiplier effect” – little financial gifts add up fast and in numbers that often dwarf the seemingly hefty single checks. But corporate giving speaks to me on another level. It takes quick decision-making and quick action in order to effect new and exceptional corporate policy, the eschewing of standard bureaucracy in favor of what is right and what is right now.

To me, this transcends even corporate philanthropy, however generous and needed. To me, this is more than strategic PR maneuvering. Could it be that we are actually beginning to listen to the Millennials when they say, essentially, “Less bullshit, more substantive action?”

Props for brands who let their values reign

Not that they need it from me, but I’d like to shine a spotlight on those companies that took action. I don’t doubt that many other companies have contributed in ways large and small, so let’s consider this a starter list:

>Airbnb offered evacuee support in the form of accommodations. I have no idea how they pulled this off, whether they, in turn, compensated the hosts or if it was an act of generosity by the property owners themselves. Either way, that is one vibrant culture of shared value buyers, sellers and broker. This has got to be one of the coolest companies on the landscape today.

>Perhaps most moving to me was to see the major cruise lines (Royal Caribbean, Norwegian) offer their vessels as evacuation vehicles in the Caribbean. Honestly, Friday was my first exposure to the tiny island of Barbuda (population: 1600) and to witness such a through devastation was truly heartbreaking. When all is lost, only hope remains. And those who salvage it and sew it are to be heartily congratulated. Putting their decked-out cruise ships into service, genuine human service, seems somehow, I don’t know, redemptive. Good for them.

>Delta and United both put a fare cap in place, hopefully making it just a little easier on those seeking to get out of harm’s way.

>Mattress Mack, a Houston retailer, put his showroom stock to good use turning his outlet into a evacuation shelter. Moreover, a CNN report recounted the story of an elderly woman’s daughter who, not knowing who else to call, phoned the store to tell them of her home and flood-bound mother. Not only did Mattress Mack put her up, he hired a crew to rip out the drenched drywall and prepare her home for its eventual re-building.

>Wi-fi providers Comcast, Spectrum and Verizon all stepped up, offering service to non-customers and unlimited data.

>Apple, a fairly consistent “good buddy” brand, has made donating easy via iTunes.

I don’t know about you, but moving forward I’m certainly going to have a different feeling about many of these companies. I’m positively predisposed to giving them by business. And isn’t that what every company wants from its prospects?

It doesn’t take a natural disaster, a catastrophic event or any other drama to figure out what we’re made of. Every day, companies who’ve taken the time to articulate what they stand for are able to demonstrate, via their employees and their actions, why they deserve our time, attention and money. Recently, I also saw a story about a returning vet who required the use of a service animal and was having a hard time finding an employer who’d accept the two of them. Lowe’s looked at the situation differently and hired him. Love you, Lowes.

Companies are not people. The only conscience they have is the one we imbue them with and codify. It was deeply gratifying to see these companies put their values into action with such diligence and confidence, and I look forward to seeing more companies follow suit.

On the other hand, personal giving is always good, too.

American Red Cross – text “Irma” or “Harvey” to 90999 to contribute $10.