Posts Tagged ‘brands’


Make Love Stay

Friday, June 21st, 2013


Recently, resident artist and Sterling Designer, Jim Muchmore was commissioned by a friend of Sterling to create a little wall-art on their home. The phrase “Make Love Stay” was from a book that Rachel Weir’s husband read years ago, which continues to inspire their relationship.

Jim was commissioned to do the piece as a surprise and celebration of Weir’s husbands birthday.

The letters were laid out with tape and chalk, then painted with spray paint and acrylic house paint.

Beautiful work, Jim.


Social Media…Pretty Much Like Real Life (a series)

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Part I:  Good Friends Are Good Listeners

Do you have a friend that you sometimes can’t stand to be around because he steamrolls the conversation – talks so fast, and so much, and so loudly that you want to cover your ears? I do. Actually, I think I might have several.

I’m reminded of these friends when I think about the way a lot of brands behave when it comes to social media.  These brands walk into the Facebook party and become the guy that dominates the conversation.  It makes sense in a way, given that marketers are trained to talk loudly and often to help shape their brand.  But this model doesn’t work within social media.

Why?  Essentially, making friends in social media is akin to making friends in real life – it’s as much about listening and getting to know your friends as it is talking about yourself.  Good listening builds trust, rapport, and openness.

Let’s take a look at some self-aware brands that get this – and through their adapted behavior, have become fluent social butterflies.


Target: Target is all about being the philanthropist.  But Target’s Facebook page doesn’t just shout about the brand’s good-deeding.  Instead, Target asks its fans to share what they care about (charities in past years; now focused on schools) and then makes charitable contributions based on their responses.  Target’s Facebook presence gives the company’s consumers and advocates an actionable voice and enhances Target’s position in the community.

fordFord: Ford loves talking about cars – but it understands that it needs to hear from consumers, too. In fact, Ford is so empathetic that it developed a social site dedicated to soliciting stories from car owners.  Ford’s brilliant approach lets the brand get to know their car owners in a much deeper, more personalized way, which provides inspiration as well as the chance to build long-term relationships with consumers.


Kleenex: Kleenex is listening even when friends don’t realize it.  In December 2011, the brand launched the “Feel Good” campaign, whereby the brand combed through status updates on its page to identify 50  “friends” with colds – and it couriered each of them a get-well kit.  All of them returned the favor by posting the interaction to their FB walls (delivering 650K impressions).   Pop Chips is also known to take this low-key approach– the brand will show-up with unexpected gifts of Pop Chips if they discover hungry Facebook friends.

One red flag: don’t bother initiating dialogue if you don’t really care.  Because no one likes that guy, either.  One online travel company recently asked its community to share stories of their favorite travel souvenirs.  A ton of fans spoke up, but the company took no note of their responses and missed an opportunity to bond and create dialogue.  Brands attempting to listen to their consumers need to follow through on what they hear and learn to start building lucrative relationships.

Sara Linderman, Strategist


Sterling Buzz…

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

We were totally blown away by the great brand insights from the speakers at last night’s AIGA in the House 2! Stay tuned to the AIGANY site for the full video of this panel discussion and upcoming events that will inspire you too — we’ll see you there!


Check out Sterling’s facebook for more photos and photos from AIGANY!


Our Big Brand Questions for 2012

Friday, January 6th, 2012

As we all settle back into our work routine at the start of yet another New Year, it seemed like a really appropriate time to reflect back on the dominant themes we heard from the marketplace throughout 2011.

This is not intended to be a list of every brand question out there – more a selection of the most interesting, relevant and even provocative questions that every brand should be thinking about right now.

So in no particular order of importance, here goes:

1.) What is your point of view about the consumer’s appetite for spending in your category in 2012? Are you still in recession mode? Are you taking note of all the latest indicators? Without a point of view, there is no point.

2.) What lessons can the rest of us learn from the surging success of the leading technology brands? And can some of their success factors be applied to your brand?

3.) Given the generally stagnant overall marketplace, growth in 2012 will likely be achieved by winning share. So, if you are to win share, then who is going to lose?

4.) How much should you commit your brand to Facebook, not just in dollar terms but in overall exposure? Is Google + a better bet? Remember what happened to Myspace and they were also seen as indomitable at one time!!

5.) The innovators in the marketplace are talking about new concepts such as “brands of meaning” and “brand generosity”. Where do you stand on these and other emerging ideas? Are they a part of your brand chatter?

6.) Should your brand be doing more to help the national unemployment phenomenon (see Starbucks for inspiration)? With an election year government, shouldn’t this be a time for brands to stand up and be counted?

7.) With data equity becoming as important as brand equity, how good is the data used to make decisions on your brand? Do you really have the best data? And more importantly, do you have the best data decoders? If not, you’re missing out.

8.) What would you do with your brand if you weren’t afraid? Or put another way, If it was your company, what would you be recommending for the way forward? And what would you retain, gain and lose from your current strategy?

9.) Really, how different is your brand vs the competition, and more importantly, how relevant and meaningful is that difference to consumers? Is this the time to be finding the new white space?

10.) For the past 5 years, Steve Jobs and Apple have been the primary point of inspiration for all of us  - will that change now? And if so, which brand takes on that role for you for that daily dose of inspiration?

11.) How unadulterated is the feedback you get from your team? Is it cleansed and filtered? Do you see the whole research report or just the executive summary? And if so, is there a risk that many of your brand decisions could be sub-optimal?

12.) Are you really partnering with consumers to build your brand or is co-creation still a question mark in your mind? Are you the barrier to progress in this area? And what will it take to get you to put your toe in the water?

In summary, I suspect that these questions will resonate with some of you and for others they’ll read like gobbledygook. And that’s fine as well. But please remember that we’re out in the marketplace almost every day of the year working with clients and these twelve topics are just some of the consistent themes and discussions that we’ve heard and if nothing else, aren’t we nice people to just want to share them!

Happy new year to you all.

Simon Williams


Salt of the Earth

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Ever wonder about the Morton Umbrella Girl? Who is this mysterious young lady? Debbie and her students dive into one of the oldest brand characters in this bonus material from the upcoming book- Brand Bible

>>Read On!



Sterling Buzz…

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Communication Arts magazine queried Debbie inside the back cover of their latest issue (the advertising annual):

“What new challenges will brands face in the future?” (more…)


CHOBANI – A Superb Example of Branding at Its Best

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011


For those of us close to the food and grocery business, there was little evidence in 2006 in the yogurt category of the massive disruption that was about to take place:

-the sector was growing consistently in line with other mature food categories

-the big players such as General Mills and Dannon were busy innovating at the edges, especially around healthier options and products targeted to kids

-store brands were still a distant threat in the category

Meanwhile, in New York and a few other urban areas, the Greek yogurt phenomenon was being trail-blazed by Fage (pronounced “fah-yeh”) but apart from a small fanatical fanbase, very few people took any notice. It just didn’t seem that important.

Fast forward to 2011 where the greek yogurt sector now represents about 25%…yes 25% of total yogurt sales in a category valued at $6.8 billion annually.

So what happened?

Well the Fage brand continues to be a major player in the category and sales continue to expand rapidly. And while all the big players were definitely caught off guard, they are now all busy launching and enjoying the rewards of new Greek-style products. But the real news surrounds the game-changing brand called Chobani which has built a $250 million business annually in less than four years and which now dominates the Greek yogurt sector.

So how did a brand that didn’t even exist 5 years ago leave both the authentic Greek innovator (Fage) and the mainstream American brands (Yoplait and Dannon) in the dust? The answer makes for interesting reading and is a wonderful example of brand-building at its best.

Like many innovations, Chobani’s success stems from a confluence of events:

-it took an entrepreneur (Hamdi Ulukaya, a descendant of a long line of dairy farmers in Turkey,), with no knowledge of the yogurt business to see the marketplace opportunity

-this coincided with a noticeable change in consumer behavior at breakfast with more and more yogurt being eaten at the expense of cereal

-in turn, this was further fueled by the need for a healthier breakfast option– And Greek yogurt with its winning combination of simple, pure flavors with high protein together with low fat easily won this battle against the incumbent brands with their sweetener, coloring and preservative-filled traditional yogurts

-Chobani’s product is high quality and provides real evidence that good-for-you products do not need to taste disgusting- in fact it tastes superb

-add to the brand a wide range of flavors, simple and optimistic packaging and some new kids products and you begin to understand why the brand has such extraordinary momentum

-from a communications point of view, word of mouth- not just digital but also family-to-family helped spread the word as the Chobani distribution in turn moved from regional to national.

A few further thoughts about this remarkable brand story. From my perspective, what Chobani managed to achieve was to simultaneously “American-ize” and “mainstream” the Greek yogurt category – in the process it left behind both the major established yogurt brands as well as the original authentic Greek brand. In itself, this is an unbelievable feat. Furthermore, it achieved this with consumer prices significantly higher than historical norms and all this was done in less than four years while we were all struggling with the toughest recession in living memory.

To me, Chobani is a wonderful example of where the combination of catalytic product and clear positioning in the marketplace is the killer app for brand success. Congratulations to all those Chobani-ans who have made this possible and for giving millions of us a daily yogurt moment to savor.

Simon Williams


When Green Goes Awash

Friday, September 2nd, 2011


In the age where the word ‘green’ has become less of an adjective for a sustainable movement, and more of a corporate marketing attempt – it seems far too apparent that the cover has been blown as consumers wise up to the realities of green marketing and green branding initiatives.

With the present day economic realities partially to blame, we cannot ignore the fact that we are still faced with a recession. Unfortunately this leaves green branded products taking a heavy hit – as environmentally friendly products are viewed as an unnecessary luxury.

Sales down across the board and it’s hard to believe that it was only a mere 3 years ago, in 2008, when ‘green’ cleaning products like Green Works grossed $100 million in sales for Clorox. Fast forward three years later, sales are topping in at $60 million for Green Works today.

It would be easy to blame this digression solely on the economic downturn, however, most of the negative perceptions of green marketing and branding today are related to greenwashing.

Greenwashing, coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, is used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding environmental benefits of a product or service. With claims like ‘all natural’ branded on virtually anything today from cookies to cotton and diapers to detergent – consumers are now asking questions.

And rightfully so. Past offenders, including one of the nation’s largest and most recognizable cereal companies, were communicating that their cereal’s had ‘natural ingredients’  — when in reality, the corn used had been genetically modified and engineered.

A recent study, done by TerraChoice Environmental – claims that 99% of all products labeled as “green” do not live up to their claims. With green branded products sitting at a higher price point than most consumer products today – consumer’s simply refuse to spend extra money on products that fail to deliver on a viable point of difference.

For CPG companies, consumers (and the planet) to see any future benefit from the sustainable branded business – products claiming to be better for the environment need to do more than sit on the laurels of the branded ‘green’ name.

Putting the resources, energy and focus into changing the process rather than the perception of ‘green’ will be the only way to effectively change consumers spending habits.

Take Tyson Chicken for example. When they were caught labeling their chicken “all natural” (when in fact their chicken were being held in factory farms and being fed genetically modified corn) they responded by changing the way they raise their chickens. Today, all fresh branded Tyson Chicken is raised without any antibiotics.

At the end of the day, if you are going to attempt to brand a product as better for the environment, you better make sure the benefits outweigh more than just your company’s bottom line.  Green branded products as a marketing ploy are no longer profitable (nor consumer appreciated) options.

Samantha Schroeder, Design Management


Sterling Buzz…

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011