Tag Archives: market strategy

Be Different!

“A branding program should be designed to differentiate your cow from all the other cattle on the range. Even if all the cattle on the range look pretty much alike.”

– {Al Ries, Author of Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind}

Be different!

NLT Creates Secondary Logo

NextLevel Thinking, a Houston based strategic marketing firm, has created a brand new secondary logo! “Our primary logo has been in the market for some time and is well recognized, so it seems like a great time to introduce a secondary logo that places an emphasis on thinking,” says Eric Poerschke, NextLevel Thinking’s Managing Partner and Chief Strategic Officer.

The secondary logo will be used on shirts and other promotional items, as well as in certain social media applications.

What’s Your Brand Worth?

By David Edelman, McKinsey Partner – Digital Marketing Strategy Practice

CEOs and executives have understood for a long time that a company’s brand is important and goes way beyond just a logo and tagline. But questions about the actual value of the brand have often relegated this vital asset to a fuzzy, feel-good, slightly nebulous item that rarely gets the executive attention it deserves.

It turns out that companies can determine how much a brand is worth. We’ve seen this most recently in the bidding war breaking out for Steinway, which is a brand that transcends time and technology. It has legendary cache, in a way that fabled brands like Kodak or Polaroid did not. We know that strong brands with good reputations have 31% better total return to shareholders than the MSCI World average. I love this quote from Kasper Ulf Nielsen, an executive partner at the Reputation Institute, on this topic: “People’s willingness to buy, recommend, work for and invest in a company is driven 60% by their perceptions of the company, and only 40% by their perceptions of their products.”

So how did Steinway develop such a valuable brand? Well, it starts with an excellent product. But to build a valuable brand, the company’s value and story must go beyond a single technology or product at a point in time. Coke, Nike, Starbucks all have this. There is an emotional resonance that justifies a premium. With the growth of aspirational high income households in developing markets, legendary brands like Steinway have staying potential — if the story can be extended and brought to life in new markets.

I actually believe that a company’s brand is becoming more important in today’s digital economy. There are so many choices that customers need to make today – products, services, upgrades, channels, etc. The digital revolution has led to a proliferation of touchpoints with brands. It can be overwhelming, so a company’s brand is a critical and reassuring reference point for a customer.

It’s also important to bear in mind that this isn’t just a B2C story. The power of brands for B2B companies is critical as well. B2B companies with strong brands outperform weak ones by 20 percent, according to an analysis my colleagues did recently.

I play the saxophone, but I know the power of a Steinway. And now at least a few investment companies do too.

So, how do you know how much your brand is worth?

To learn more about brand building, Click Here to go to our site!

NLT Launches Growth Advocates

NextLevel Thinking, a marketing strategy firm headquartered in Houston, Texas, has launched a networking group made up primarily of trusted advisers such as accountants, lawyers, money managers, etc.

The groups name is Growth Advocates and they meet on the first and third Wednesday of each month at The Tasting Room – Uptown Park.

“I visited a bunch of networking groups trying to find a good fit for my business and just couldn’t find one with the quality of individuals that I was looking for, so I started my own!”, says Eric Poerschke, Managing Partner of NextLevel Thinking.

Founding Members Include:

Diana Greenwood, Aspire Executive Coaching
Daren Dahmer, Merrill Lynch
Ted Leitch, Expense Reduction Analysts
David Martin, Choice Exploration

Only one person from each professional classification is permitted to join the group. The group, which officially started at the beginning of 2013, had a set number of classifications and has already grown to 19 members.

The responsibility of each member is to understand each other’s business in such a way that they can successfully advocate for each other. The meetings are run in such a way that this will happen over time. Ultimately, this will allow members to pass qualified leads to each other.

For more information, contact Eric Poerschke ([email protected]) or Daren Dahmer ([email protected]).

The Definition of a Brand!

“A Brand is not a product or a promise or a feeling. It’s the sum of all the experiences you have with a company.” – {Amir Kassaei, DDB Worldwide Chief Creative Officer}

Effective Word-of-Mouth Marketing

“Word-of-mouth marketing isn’t about giving customers talking points, as if they were brand spokespeople. It’s about delivering an exceptional customer experience that makes customers want to recommend you.” – {Deborah Eastman}

September 2011 Thoughts

The September 2011 Thoughts That Count from NextLevel Thinking: Let Them Know What You Are Doing “For a business not to market and advertise is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but no one else does.” {Stuart H. Britt, US Advertising Consultant}

Supporting Your Local Community is Good Marketing!!!

My daughter is a member of her high school dance team, the award winning Langham Creek Bailadoras (www.bailadoras.com
). Last week for the second straight year, I participated in something called Donation Quest. My job was to chaperone and drive five girls to various local businesses. The girls asked these businesses for donations to be used at their annual Spaghetti Dinner and Silent Auction.

As I drove from business to business, I started to think about how important it is for these local businesses to participate in the various fundraising activities that inevitably present themselves each year. After all, the communities where these businesses reside support them with their wallet and are an important source of sales../p>

We visited restaurants, watch shops, electronics stores, custom frame shops, beauty parlors, yogurt shops and car garages just to name a few. Most were locally owned with a few national chains sprinkled in the mix.

The responses to the girl’s requests were varied. There were a few “We were wondering when we were going to see you this year, let’s see what we can do for you” or “We really like participating in these local events, here is a gift certificate for you to use”. Our team always felt positive about our interaction with those businesses. You got the feeling that they conduct business like this every day.

Some of the local businesses and all of the national chains said they needed to talk to their home office. How weak is that…it’s just an easy way for them to not participate? Only a few businesses actually said no!

So, if you are a local business supported by your local community, my advice is to put community participation into your yearly marketing plan. It doesn’t have to be expensive and you can be creative in your ideas. Working with your local community brings a wide range of benefits that really have to do with creating good will for your company.

So, the next time a group of girls from the high school dance team comes into your place of business with an opportunity for you to highlight what you do, be prepared to help them out!

The Future of Marketing Communications

The science and art of marketing communications has long been misunderstood. When times get tough, this is typically the budget that is reduced or eliminated. However, countless studies show that this approach is usually a mistake. In fact, those same studies point out that a down economy is usually the best time to gain market share from your competitors. The reason that this is one of the first budgets to get cut is unclear. However, most executives, especially those from non-marketing disciplines, view marketing as a “soft” expense. If done correctly, marketing is anything but soft. In fact, marketing is just as important as any of the other disciplines in your business such as accounting, finance, sales, etc.

I would even argue that marketing is the most important discipline in your business because it deals with the motivations that drive your customers and potential customers to purchase your product or service. Most market driven organizations use this information to not only design their marketing communications, but also to influence the entire customer experience. The sales discipline is a close second for obvious reasons. However, a well thought out and well-executed marketing communications program will certainly build name recognition, which will effectively open doors for your sales team.

So, what is a well thought out and well executed marketing communications program? I decided to find this out by doing some homework on the industry. I first conducted a thorough secondary research study of the trends, shifts, and new developments to understand the current and developing market dynamics. I then reviewed the landscape, consisting of advertising agencies, general consulting/strategy firms, think tanks, branding firms, interactive agencies, direct marketing firms, innovation firms, sales motivation/enablement/consulting firms, design firms, marketing consulting/strategy firms, CRM software firms, and database marketing firms, to find out what each type of firm was saying about themselves.

The exercise was fascinating and the results were very instructive. After countless hours searching, reading, surfing and discussing, I was able to boil down the findings into what I call “the pillars of success” in the marketing communications industry. These pillars of success are not driven by what marketing communication firms want to offer, but by what businesses need to make them successful. The three pillars of success are: the customer, measurability and business perspective.

The focus on marketing in the future is going to be one-on-one customer relationships instead of a one-to-many mass-market approach. Many predict that creative people in marketing and advertising will spend less time trying to appeal to a mass audience and more on niche groups. In fact, the term brand will describe a more holistic way of looking at the customer. The brand of tomorrow will represent the company. The brand will reflect the company’s attributes and the personal relationships it enjoys with each customer. Therefore, your organization must look at all of its’ touch points to really improve the customer experience. Focusing on good products and services should come first and a solid brand will follow. All of the trends point to the fact that maintaining a running dialogue with your customers is the wave of the future. It will take a mix of direct marketing concepts and 360 degree marketing to make this happen.

As the focus moves to the customer, the ability to not only measure, but also generate positive returns on your invested marketing dollar will be a key factor in future marketing programs. The fact that much of this work will be based on direct marketing concepts will make this easier to measure. Executives within organizations are insisting on measurability. If they are going to invest money in the business, they want to know what type of return they are going to get for that investment. They argue that marketing should not be any different than the other business disciplines. The fact that this has not traditionally been done very well in marketing gives some a reason to be concerned. Others will take advantage of this fact and marketing will be viewed as a strategic discipline within their business instead of the traditional cost center.

The ability of an organization to view marketing from a business perspective will be very important to that organization’s success in the future. In the past, the typical marketing organization didn’t always link their programs to business objectives. At best, they were talked about but never really tied together. As mentioned earlier in the article, the concept of “branding” has moved far beyond communicating product differences and building “image.” In order to improve brand performance, marketing experts need to consider product redesign, overhauling the supply chain, reducing costs, introducing loyalty rewards for customers and many other business focused variables.

When a company is looking for an outside firm to assist with their marketing challenges, it has been suggested that the way forward lies with “virtual” lead agencies, who advise at a strategic marketing level, and then bring in, as required, excellence in the marketing communication disciplines such as advertising, public relations, direct response etc. During the next decade, marketing firms/advertising agencies will break into three types of companies: ideation firms, realization firms, and media companies. Realization firms would carry out the concepts of ideation firms. To some extent, this has already begun to happen. Because of the commission system, many advertising agencies are uncomfortable pitching for work that doesn’t have an advertising outcome. Many executives are aware of this fact. Therefore, because of the necessary business focus discussed above, traditional management consultants are now making many of the important high-end strategic marketing decisions. In fact, a recent survey of top marketing executives found that 60% of respondents believe that management consultants are a significant threat. This is not necessarily great news. Management consultants have traditionally excelled at data processing and organizational change, while not being highly rated for the creativity of their solutions. These consultancies often focus on stripping out costs rather than adding value. The shift to creative, value adding, profit driven solutions is a big one.

In summary, marketing communication firms of all origins will be trying to reinvent themselves in the future. The enviable position will be ideation firms that provide customer driven, business focused ideas that will help a company grow. The key for realization firms is twofold: To be successfully linked with an ideation firm or firms that can feed them business, and to focus on their core competency in becoming the best realization firm in their category.

A Day in the Life of NextLevel Thinking

A large organization in the technology sector needed help developing a strategy to move more product through their existing distribution channel. Our client sold through a very competitive reseller channel, who in turn sold to the end customer. We developed a comprehensive approach to investigate their opportunity and potential. They expected us to take an exhaustive look at the market. What they didn’t expect was our interest in their supply chain and their internal organization.


Most projects usually start with a half day to a full day session designed to make sure that all team members clearly understand project scope, project goals, and their role on the project team. This organization was truly a virtual organization that presented quite a logistical challenge. They had key players on both coasts and were headquartered in the Midwest. We facilitated this meeting using video conference and teleconference technology. We accomplished our meeting goals as if we were all in the same room.

The next step was to kick off an exhaustive study of their external marketplace, in addition to conducting a thorough analysis of their internal organization. In this case, our definition of the external marketplace consisted of key suppliers to the organization, the existing and potential reseller channel, and customers of our client’s resellers. In the beginning, our client had some difficulty understanding why we needed information from key suppliers and end customers when all they wanted to focus on was optimizing the reseller channel. However, when they were able to sit behind the glass at focus group facilities and view triad focus groups in action they were amazed. Their suppliers had great insight. Not only would their just-in-time inventory ideas save our client several hundred thousand dollars a year, but the improved delivery time to the reseller channel would be dramatic. Now some of this was starting to make sense. Conversations with a few hundred existing and potential resellers also proved to be helpful. Existing resellers enabled us to understand the areas where our client was doing well and areas where improvements could be made. Potential resellers helped us paint the picture of a world class supplier in our client’s category. The final piece to the external puzzle was a comprehensive examination of their reseller’s customers using secondary research. Understanding the drivers behind this group’s buying behavior would prove to be critical to our client.

The internal organization turned out to be just as interesting. We conducted personal interviews with twenty key executives and managers, distributed a questionnaire to all three hundred and fifty full time employees, and conducted focus groups with a representative sample of the part time employees. The organization had set up all sorts of processes and procedures to make sure that internal controls were met and management was happy. We realized very quickly that the measurements in place were not necessarily measurements of success factors that were valued in our client’s market place.


Believe it or not, with enough lead-time, this project team managed to get together for three days at a golf course destination in the desert to discuss all of the new and exciting possibilities for their company. Prior to the meetings, our team spent a week boiling down all of the information gathered during the Investigation phase. In order to facilitate a productive brainstorming session, our team divided the data into eight relevant discussion sections. A different discussion technique was used for each section. These techniques allowed the project team to visualize opportunities in a variety of contexts.

The walls of the meeting room quickly filled with exciting possibilities. Our client’s suppliers identified interesting ways to work together to reduce inventory. It became very clear to our client that the reseller channel was not properly equipped with the knowledge or tools to successfully sell their product. This was especially important given the multiple competing lines that most of the resellers carry. They also felt like our client could do a much better job of communicating their uniqueness in the marketplace. The secondary research provided some great understanding of what drove the buying decisions of our client’s customers.

Although many interesting opportunities were identified during the brainstorming session, boiling all of that down into one concept that would uniquely separate our client from their competition was quite a challenge. As we moved through the Separation Statement development process, the notion of versatility continued to appear at the top of the list. The exciting thing about versatility is that our client delivered this concept better than the competition. However, several competitors were already pretending to own the idea. We were able to craft a Separation Statement that would potentially capitalize on our client’s unique version of versatility.

Using the Separation Statement as a guide, the project team developed a framework to illustrate their desired positioning in the market. In order to reach this destination, strategy was written to fill in the gaps between their as-is model and the settled upon to-be model. For every project designed to communicate a strategic message to the market, there was an internal project intended to enable our client to deliver on that promise. The finished product was a document that provided the framework and the tactical implementation projects that would enable our client to reach their desired market potential.


Once the strategy was written, our client needed something to keep them focused on turning the implementation projects into reality. Some projects were our responsibility, and other projects were handled internally by the client. Our team guided this process through weekly status meetings to make sure that progress was being made on each project, as well as making sure that the entire effort was properly coordinated.

As projects reached completion and deliverables were produced, our team was there to make sure that they were properly rolled out to either an internal audience or an external audience.

As deliverables were rolled out, our team developed metrics that were used to measure progress toward client goals. Some metrics were simple and others were somewhat involved. We began reporting results at the weekly status meetings. Many of the results were positive and the momentum this created for our client was exciting. Just as important as the positive momentum was our ability to identify negative trends before they caused a problem. As with any strategy, the ability to monitor and adjust along the way gave our client the confidence to continue toward their goal of not only being able to communicate versatility to their market, but to actually be able to deliver on that promise time and time again.

About the Author

Eric J. Poerschke is a partner at Next Level Thinking, a strategic marketing firm that blends emotion, education, and execution into a brand building approach and framework for their clients.

Eric has more than 20 years of experience at successfully crafting and executing marketing strategies. He has worked with companies in many industry sectors and vertical markets which have given him a very broad perspective of what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to marketing strategy.

NextLevel Thinking Unveils New Offering

NextLevel Thinking unveiled a new offering at the Association of Donor Recruitment Professionals (ADRP) annual meeting this week in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Every blood center is different. From the way they do business to the size of the center. It is because of this that we have developed a Creative Program Package that can be fitted to your center’s needs.

Through the course of investigating the marketplace and what medium gets the strongest response, NextLevel Thinking has discovered that people are not simply visual but will go out of their way to view images…especially moving images. Websites such as YouTube, Hulu, and others have steadily increased in popularity over the past few years. To put it simply…people like watching video based mediums.

We understand that not all blood centers can afford regular television campaigns, but we also know that there are more avenues available than ever before to illustrate the power and positive impact of a simple blood donation.

Packages include 30 second video stories, extended video stories, audio stories, email and/or post card shells and custom t-shirt designs to go along with your campaign. Click Here and then click on Program Packages to view our video about how your center can begin telling these emotionally compelling stories in a cost effective way or call us at 713.893.6841 to find out we can design a custom package for you.

How San Diego Blood Bank Made a Difference in Life

As the Marketing Manager for the San Diego Blood Bank I struggled with many of the same challenges that marketing professionals around the world grapple with – how do you create a compelling enough message to motivate the public to do something that could be out of their comfort zone. In this case, we weren’t asking people to purchase a product or service; we needed them to donate blood. Unlike Apple’s iPod or Sony’s PlayStation, there would be no fancy gadget to provide hours of entertainment – only the knowledge that a blood donor’s efforts may have saved someone’s life. On top of that, marketing to people in Southern California proved to have its unique challenges because there are so many options distracting the consumer. Donating blood was taking a backseat to surfing, sailing and shopping!

Before our journey began with NextLevel Thinking, the San Diego Blood Bank was constantly struggling to maintain an adequate blood supply for the hospitals it serves in and around San Diego County. Supplies dropped so low in the summer and around the holidays that the organization often resorted to issuing emergency pleas for blood through the media. These appeals caused momentary spikes in collections but never produced the sustained donating trends that we desperately needed to establish.

Organizationally, we determined that something had to change in order for the San Diego Blood Bank to be able to fulfill its mission in the community. The previous strategies hadn’t delivered the results we were looking for – to collect and maintain a consistent supply of blood for area hospitals. To do this, we needed to recruit new blood donors and increase the number of donations our existing donors were giving each year.

The decision to bring NextLevel Thinking in to help us craft a new strategy came from seeing the impressive results the firm produced at Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center. During my initial conversation with Eric Poerschke, NextLevel’s managing partner, he asked me if the San Diego Blood Bank was ready to do what was necessary to change the culture at our organization and ultimately pave the uphill road to success. He cautioned me that it wouldn’t work unless we were completely committed to executing every aspect of the program that we would design together. Our CEO was convinced that we needed to make a change, so we took the plunge.

When NextLevel came on board we began an investigation and analysis exercise to help us review our existing marketing and PR practices. We discovered many interesting things about our organization during that process that would begin to shape the restructuring of our strategy. I believe the most dramatic realization was that we weren’t cultivating a relationship with our donors, mainly because we were missing opportunities to communicate with them. Through more analysis (yes, it often felt like group therapy) we realized that we hadn’t been confident enough about ourselves, and our cause, to create that meaningful relationship with our donors. We also found that our organization wasn’t visible enough in the community and that the public didn’t realize the importance of donating blood and the impact it could have on someone’s life.

NextLevel helped us realize that our organization had something special to offer; something many other non-profits lacked. We could provide people the chance to make a difference in someone’s life by donating blood. From that discovery, the Difference in Life program was born.

In order to achieve our goal of recruiting new blood donors and increasing the number of donations by our existing donors, we created a multi-platform recruitment and retention strategy incorporating email, mail, telemarketing, website development, radio/television advertising and internal customer service outreach. Every communication touch point was integrated with each other so the messages were all consistent. By utilizing these various communication mediums we found that we were able to start “connecting” with our donors using one or more of the methods that were most convenient to them. We were sensitive to the fact that we needed to cultivate a respectful relationship with our constituents so we decided to limit our contacts on a monthly basis.

We used email, mail, telemarketing and customer service outreach to communicate with existing donors and made a significant investment in radio/television advertising to appeal to new donors. We created a simple story and some easy steps that would explain how people could “make a difference in life.” All we asked is that they donate “one more time each year.” For new donors, that meant one donation. For an existing donor, it was one additional visit. To put a face to our cause, we began sharing the stories of real blood recipients and blood donors in San Diego whose lives had been impacted by the act of donating blood.

It was also important that the program offer opportunities for everyone to make a difference in life – so we created programs for individual blood donors, for businesses/organizations who host blood drives, for those who choose to volunteer their time and those who opt to make a financial contribution. Like our touch point communications, each of these sub-programs were integrated with one another to maximize the effectiveness of the overall program goal.

In order for this program to be successful, it had to become a part of the culture at the San Diego Blood Bank – an organization that opened in 1950. Change didn’t come quickly for many of the employees who’d spent their careers building the framework of the previous strategy. But, with the support of our CEO and other directors, the employees began to believe in the Difference in Life program. We instituted a customer service training program for the nursing staff to get them excited about the many new benefits they would be offering donors. In addition, we hosted new commercial viewing parties for the employees and offered updates about the program in every employee newsletter. We invited staff members to participate in various Difference in Life teams so they could offer input and help craft the strategy. Every department was given the opportunity to contribute.

Within one year of launching the Difference in Life program, the San Diego Blood Bank increased collections by 10%. In addition, donor satisfaction surveys improved dramatically and our number of first time donors increased. We stopped issuing emergency pleas for donors and began maintaining a consistent supply of blood.

Within three years, we’d increased collections by 26% and began tackling other challenges like managing an ever-growing inventory of blood products. During those three years, we experimented with many different tactics for improving our results but we never deviated from the core strategy. Although the program is far more complex than when it started, it still relies on the integrity of the multi-platform messaging that was created at its inception.

In conclusion, if I could advise other marketing professionals who would like to see these kinds of results, I would encourage them to jump in with both feet and truly commit to executing the strategy you develop. Don’t cut corners or try to save a few pennies in the short-term. Your long-term results will pay dividends. I can say with complete certainty that we would not have experienced the success we quickly realized if we would have sacrificed one component of the program. Although the multi-platform communication model can be cumbersome to manage, it is the most effective way to ensure your message is received. And, ultimately, that’s what makes a difference.

About the Author

Mary Walter-Brown was the marketing manager for the San Diego Blood Bank and is now the owner of Brown Ideas, a strategic marketing firm located in San Diego, California specializing in multi-media marketing solutions. Mary has a diverse background with more than 17 years of experience in television news, corporate video production, public relations and marketing.

Difference in Life Campaign Pays Dividends

SAN DIEGO, CA (June 2008) – The Difference in Life Campaign pays awareness dividends to the San Diego Blood Bank!

The Caster Family Center for Nonprofit Research presented a report to the community on San Diego’s third sector. San Diego’s nonprofits contribute in significant ways to the quality of life in the San Diego region, and the confidence that San Diegans have in the sector is its bedrock.

From November 2007 to January 2008, a total of 1,002 adult San Diego County residents responded to a survey designed to assess their confidence in the ability of local nonprofit organizations to provide quality services on the public’s behalf and to spend money wisely.

At the beginning of this survey, participants were given an identification test to determine their awareness of nonprofit organizations. This was done in order to determine whether or not respondents were basing their perceptions of the sector on an accurate understanding of what is, and what is not, a nonprofit organization.

For the purpose of this study, a person’s ability to correctly identify nonprofits when asked to name three nonprofit organizations was used as an indicator of nonprofit awareness. The top three most frequently identified locally based nonprofit organizations were Father Joe’s Village/St. Vicent DePaul, San Diego Blood Bank, and Children’s Hospital.

“The visibility that the Difference in Life campaign has given the San Diego Blood Bank has really increased their awareness in the San Diego Community,” say Eric Poerschke, Managing Partner at NextLevel Thinking. NextLevel Thinking is the Houston based strategic marketing firm that created the Difference in Life program for the San Diego Blood Bank.