How Brands Survive Bricks to Clicks

bricks blog shotThere is nothing sadder, I think than seeing an empty space in a shopping center, once filled by a vibrant, bustling retailer.

E-commerce is no longer a new growth segment. It is now shaping the future of retailing. Aided and abetted of course by savvy consumers who shop the retail options they want, without moving more than their finger.

Yes, we get it. This is not news. And ‘brick’ retailers are already finding ways to marry ‘bricks with clicks’… personalized offers, store pick-up/return, etc.

But now Amazon is reported to be acquiring premier food retailer Whole Foods. Bricks and clicks galore!

 There are all sorts of predictions and scenarios on what this will mean to traditional brick retailers. Especially as it relates to the future of large format retailers? Do we really need to battle our way to and through the local Costco, Target or Wal-Mart? Why can’t we buy online and have them battle their way to us? Uber of everything?

And more to the point (as it always is) why do we, consumers, have to pay for that large space (as we always will). Give us what we want in an affordable, convenient way, and we’ll take it every time. And that probably means that we won’t be paying for the real estate taxes, utilities, and wages that the local, debt-ridden municipalities will seek from your ‘big box’ facilities.

 What does this all mean to traditional brand retailers?

 So you are a brand that has spent years, if not decades, building its reputation and support through the shopping experience.

You may be like a local hardware store that thrived for years near me with its jam-packed shelves and friendly staff. Customers walked in with some piece from a broken old faucet and walked out with the right part and emboldened with the knowledge of how to fix it. You survived a Home Depot opening near by and a move to a bigger space. But you couldn’t compete on price and still pay the costs to keep your doors open. You are now a large empty space in a strip mall.

What do you need to do to survive this rather miserable scenario?

Hey, brighten up. You own the one thing that no new brand or new online store can ever have. You have been successful in brick and mortar shopping for a long time. Chances are you have built a familiar and trusted brand relationship with your local community. There is absolutely no reason why your brand reputation will not transfer to the digital world and be even more successful.

It is really as simple as understanding your brand story.

 Take that hardware store above. I cannot get anywhere near the same help or solutions from Home Depot or any website as I once did from that store. Even if I had somehow I wouldn’t feel as confident or supported.

So set up a ‘knowledge’ site with video integration where I can connect, show you my broken faucet. You’ll help. If I need a part you’ll deliver it from a supply warehouse (maybe have a local charity deliver and be part of your Millennial’s ‘cause related, purpose-driven community’) or you’ll send a plumber with a new faucet, etc. Whatever. The idea is that you transfer your knowledge brand story to an online retail opportunity. Site costs are still a lot cheaper than the mounting store costs.

Knowledge is the new ‘secret sauce’ in digital retailing. It is also the great equalizer. With more and changing options for every shopping item in the world, knowledge is invaluable, profitable and competitively sustainable.

 Yes, I know there is a ‘depends’ comment here. How can you replicate the smell of fresh bakery online or new car leather or ogle a paper thin TV or try on the new fashion, etc.? All good issues but also creatively solvable with technology and understanding your brand message.

We believe that with rare exception ‘brick’ retail brands can survive and indeed thrive in the new digital age. It’s all about brand story, not bricks.

 We at Rocket Branding love this stuff. Call us, and we’ll help find your online brand story and profitable future.





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Hope or Fear. Where Brands Thrive or Die.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 2.45.22 PMWall Street believes ‘greed’ and ‘fear’ drive financial markets. These two emotional states have also driven brand growth for decades. But something is changing, and one could argue that ‘greed’ is now best stated as ‘hope’, at least for branding purposes. Disregard this change at your peril.

Let’s break it down.

‘Fear’ is easy to understand. Consider brands for insurance, medicine, and security. Not the kind of products we think of first thing in the morning, or at all, if we can help it. We buy them when we fear the consequences of not doing so.

Insurance brands like Geico, Progressive, and Aflac, try to break through this lethargy with entertaining characters – lizards, ducks (and of course the omnipresent Flo) with ‘no-fuss-less-money’ approaches. They try to overcome disinterest without the heavy hand of fear. Then there is Allstate’s Mayhem campaign that hits you over the head with it. Literally.

Drug and medical brands also depend on the ‘fear and consequence’ mindset. Let’s not delve into irritable bowel syndrome and such, but you see how playing on fear works to drive these brands.

‘Greed’ on the other hand is all about the things we want. A whole lot more engaging. Luxury, shiny, creamy, gooey, exotic travel, exquisite perfumes. The list goes on. Stuff that excites, pleasures and feeds our self-indulgences and social image.

Qantas Airlines enjoys one of the best safety records in the world but rarely promotes it. Comfort, service, and destination are all better selling points than the scary safety notions. Car brands are notorious purveyors of greed. Sleek, sexy, fast. Volvo played the family safety card. Even though successful over the years, it has been difficult for them to also sell the performance and image of that owners seek.

If you understand where your brand competes in the ‘greed and fear’ contexts, you will know how to position, message and market it.

But as mentioned at the beginning, for the first time in maybe five decades, this I believe is changing and quite profoundly so.

Fear is still fear but greed is in many ways is much less in vogue. At one time it was quite aspirational to be wealthy and successful. Big car, big home, big career. You were to be congratulated, envied and even admired.

No so much today. Perspectives have changed. The rich are still rich and even richer. But the poor populations, the environment, and nature are all at higher risks and the stigma of power mongering and corruption among ‘elites’ the world over is now at a flash point. New terms like ‘clean the swamp’, ‘populist view’ and ‘purpose-driven’ marketing are emblematic of this.

I remember at one time being on the team to sell the new American Express Green Card campaign, ‘Membership has its privileges globally. It was very successful in the North America but not so internationally. To many cultures, only the ruling classes enjoyed privileges. I believe that North America has caught up with this now and again the idea of greed or excess so to speak is no longer PC.

So what do we do? Clearly, consumers still want their luxuries and pleasures and will buy brands in this context. But be careful.

If your brand is supported by those over 50, I’d say be as hedonistic as you want. But if your consumer base is under 40 and Millennial then I would rethink your Greed platform.

Folks under 40 have a greater sensitivity to the notion of greed partly because of the basic inequality or injustice issues, but also importantly because of uncertainty of the future and more so their future. Clearly fear has crept into greed. Some of this is real of course in terms of the health and safety of the world, but some of it is also from the daily flood of negative news. Between the 24/7 broadcast news and social digital media, we not only get all the negative world headlines (bad news sells) but we get on the spot, real time videos with the more scandalous zooming around the Internet at warp speed. So we not only hear the official news but also the supposedly ‘real’ backstory often from someones’ cell phone.

We hear and see way too much of the bad stuff, and it plays major havoc with our sensitivities and sense of well-being.

So here is my simple answer.

Let’s rethink ‘greed’ as ‘hope’ and if our brand needs to live in the ‘I want more’ space (formerly known as ‘greed’) be very careful how we moderate our message and present our brand. It’s not just about being better but being human. It’s not about isolated individuals but social fun and engagement. More authenticity. Less BS.

Bottom line. If you are building a brand in a ‘fear’ context, go at it full blast but if you favor the ‘greed’ context then at least think long a hard about moving into a ‘hope’ context where humanity and authenticity thrive.

We love this stuff at Rocket Branding.

What say you?


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The America Party Brand?



Are the two preeminent political parties losing enough relevance that now a new party could actually emerge?

Unlikely is this cycle but what about the next?

History is full of new brands emerging out of the growing irrelevance of the incumbents … Fed Ex, Lexus/Kia/Hyundai, Home Depot, Visio, Starbucks and, of course, Apple (over IBM and Dell), to name a few.

 When leading brands, even icons, lose relevance the stage is set for a new one to rocket.

Is this possible in this political arena?

The ‘voter’ market is certainly not happy with their parties.

Voters have overwhelmingly lost confidence in either party ‘regulars’ to solve economic or national security problems. Words like ‘Washington’ and ‘Establishment Politician’ have about as much brand cache now as ‘Wall Street’ and ‘Fund Managers’. Accordingly, the newer so-called millennial voters appear less politically engaged with the parties. Getting a job, paying off loans is the daily reality and petty, mud-slinging politicians with their party cronies and self interests are just not on their radar.

It’s easy to see why the political outsiders, Trump, and Sanders have energized voters. They speak to a simplified, less corrupt and more action-orientated view of government. A view, which again is not entirely aligned with the party planks. This has attracted new interest and record voter turn out. Voters are not stupid, and if they realize that the party delegates and super delegates can easily subvert their votes, then their anger and frustration with their party will only intensify.

On the larger scale, our culture is also changing in subtle ways that will challenge the traditional party foundations and relevance going forward.

New voters are often less religious and to a degree less nationalistic. Global connectivity and the increasingly mixed races are creating much more sensitivity towards the world at large and a deep ‘dislike of the ‘isms’ … racism, classism, extremism, elitism and anything that smells of subversism.

And relevance is a problem for both parties.

The Republican Party has been lost for a decade. The Tea Party set the table for Mitt Romney to win the 2012 Election but he didn’t. Now he and his establishment conservatives are spearheading an anti-Trump movement and splitting the party. Whether Trump represents a compelling new Republican voice or voters are just regaling against the seemingly ineffectual ‘establishment’ Republicans, is an interesting debate. Either way, it’s a hard to see how the Republican Party can stop their relevance from continuing to erode across the broad spectrum of voters.

The Democrats aren’t in much better shape. President Obama offered a positive, unifying leadership, which many believe has, after two terms, achieved little beyond his attempts at legacy building. Of their two candidates for President, one is a proud socialist and probably unelectable and the other with FBI investigations and single digit honesty ratings is in many ways the poster child for what angers many about today’s politicians.

Further, it’s, at least, clear to me that as both parties have become such adversaries any opportunities for compromise and moderate outcomes are zero. The extremes seem to be the norm. But how many voters are not hard-liners? Many Republicans I speak to are fiscally conservative and defense-concerned but socially moderate even quite liberal on some topics. Likewise, many Democrats are strong on equality and progressive issues but are also becoming increasingly worried about the fiscal, national security fears and yes big government debt concerns.

Is it possible for a new party, say The America Party, to emerge from the ashes of the incumbents and represent the best of both … not the worst of both?

 Yes, I know parties like the Libertarians have made some impact but they have not succeeded to the main stage to date. Mostly I believe because they stand as a contrast to the others with fairly narrow platforms. And there is always a well of independents who just maybe waiting for The America Party.

If The America Party brand can represent a new and positive voice that appeals to the best of both parties, then why not? No one wants to fight against something. Always better to fight for something. Let us fight for America and without all the infighting, pettiness and old machine corruption and, of course, the ‘isms’.

 Yes, I know more parties create more problems. Look at Europe. And yes a one party system won’t work but we are just talking here, and maybe The America Party could be a remake or evolution of either party. ‘New and Improved’ so to speak.

Overly simplistic you say? Well maybe but in history the biggest ideas have typically come from the simplest of notions.

Whatever the solution, this writer believes that if these parties do not look up and out a bit, their brand will remain as irrelevant and uninspiring as they certainly have become today.

What say you brand wizards?

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New TEch Blog PM copyBranding is the most undervalued ROI asset for a new technology based product or service.

Yet with a little creativity and strategic rigor, branding is one of the easiest, cheapest and quickest assets to build.

Snausages (a new doubly extruded pet treat) was created over a slice of pizza, Celebrex (a new cox-2 inhibitor) on a napkin over lunch. The new, Old Spice (advanced deodorancy) from a couple of focus groups.

Branding is the short hand surrogate for the technology. Would you rather put sucralose or Splenda in your coffee? Would you rather send a ‘fax’ or a facsimile transmission? Do you ride a Harley or a motorbike?

Branding is also an opportunity to create new category language. Celebrex was the first new ‘smart’ drug. ‘Social collaboration’ was the new space for content management and intranet software. Being the first or best of a new space is a great positioning for a new technology. It tends to bring in the media, which loves to name and anoint new categories …4X4, SUV, laptop, cross trainer, designer drugs and so on.

A well-positioned and designed brand identity (name, logo, tag, message) will accelerate acceptance and, importantly promote advocacy (and buzz) among key customers, consumers and their influencers.

New technology has created revenues and market share for centuries with examples in every category … medicine, food, transport, fabric etc. and now with the digital age new technology applications are producing new products and behaviors at an unprecedented rate.

So why do so many new tech brands fail to gain traction and deliver their early revenue and ROI goals?.

Three reasons.

1. The ‘What it is vs. What it does’ syndrome. New technology creators are brilliant. New features and functions can be world changing. Unfortunately most of the world is too busy and occupied to notice. The trap is in believing that all you have to do is tout the features …the what it is and people will flock to it.

The truth is that most people don’t care as much about what it is as what it does for them. Does it it make their lives, easier, healthier, happier? And even further does it provide an emotional or psychic reward? And even further what does it allow me to give up?

2. Creative Fear. One of the great ironies I come across is how creative, technology innovators, can be and yet how uncreative they think they are in branding. Scientists, engineers, inventors, invariably feel that they are not equipped to create brands. No so. In fact in my experience some of the most creative branding exercises have been conducted with exactly that group.

I hate to break the myth but branding is simple logic and common sense…typically two of the key strengths of creators.

3. Asking the wrong questions

Here’s the magic. Take notes. This is a product of 35+ years of building successful brands and particularly technology fueled brands. It is called Rocket Branding℠.

It’s all about growth, focus and simplicity.

Understanding what the role of the branding is in building company growth, focusing on the target that will contribute most and quickest to the growth path and if it isn’t simple no one cares.

Answer these 5 questions and you will be on your way to branding nirvana.

1. What revenue are we looking for over the next 3-5 years?

2. What target consumer or customer is going to be our most important revenue generator?

3. What does our new technology enable them to do better or more of?

4. How are they going to feel in using our technology?

5. What words, thought, ideas best describe or symbolize that experience?

Start here and go for it. You’ll be surprised how creative you can be.

For more on this thinking and cases read my book Rocket Branding,buy at, visit and contact us if you’d like some help.

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A recent odd travel experience highlighted for me how difficult it can be to launch fast growing brands today.

I was retained by airport TSA agents who informed me that the x-ray had detected a “groin anomaly’ and I needed to go to a secure room.

Suffice to say that after a thorough investigation and, a herculean effort on my part not to make a slew of jokes, they let me on my way.

Now I was more than happy to immediately “drop trou” and show them that their fears were quite unfounded but no, I had to go through an extended pat down and questioning. They had their roles and I had to have mine.

So what does this have to do with branding today?

Well two things.

1. Caution

We now live in very cautious world.  What we say or do in public is open to massive amounts of scrutiny and judgment and, in many situations we have to be very careful about how we behave, act or react. The same goes for a brand that competes in any arena where caution is now common. E.g. food, ingredients, health, financial, travel, children and so on.

2. Watching

With the Internet, cameras, drones you are being watched, recorded and classified. So is your brand.

No, this isn’t about ‘big brother’ or sinister plots and it is in no way suggesting that brands should not be spontaneous, flippant or even irreverent, if that is what the brand strategy calls for.

This is just a reminder to carefully assess the mindset of your core customer or consumer and the way life is causing them to make decisions relative to your brand.

And especially be very careful with competitive positioning focuses on Trust or Freedom.

‘Trust’ can easily be broken if there is a ‘gotcha’ moment or inconsistency from one brand connection to another.

‘Freedom’ is an incredible promise as an anti dote to caution and concern but this had better be legitimate or it can become an albatross around the brand’s neck…. any one for sea cruise on a sick ship…just ask luxury cruise ship how freedom on the high seas is working for them?

What say you?

Let us help you work through this. Visit







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Like it or not Facebook ‘Likes’ have now become a shiny, new marketing tool.

Dollars and teams are being dedicated to building legions of ‘Likers’ and ‘Sharers’.

The belief is that the audience gained is actually among targeted customers and that they will at some point help build business.

The jury is still out on this, but the frenzied quest for Likes has spawned a new era of trickery and deception, all to get you to click that little button of love.

Here are some classics:

1.  Reverse Psychology. This is a fairly new trick to get you to Like/Share a post.  They use a little reverse psychology to make you think you are smart by being able to answer a question easily.  But before you type ‘Monopoly’ in the comments section, understand that you were just tricked into giving the host a higher SEO and page rank.

2. If I Had A Million Likes. Sneaky! Sneaky!  For those of you who have Liked one of these posts, see if any of these people are still in your Liked list.  Hmmm.  I don’t remember liking Bill Joe’s Auto Dealership. When did I become a fan of Willy’s Widgets?  When these cute little kids get a million Likes, they’re cute page magically transforms, in the middle of the night, into a business (auto dealership, radio station, local insurance agency). These companies enjoy the launch of their new social media page with a base of millions of Likes, all gained because you wanted to help someone.

3.  The Sob Story. There are multiple fan pages on Facebook based solely on getting people to interact through sad events.  They post something that makes you laugh, or cry and you click Like and Share.  This puts it in front of all your friends and so on and so on, until you see the story has 3.8 million likes!  What you don’t necessarily know is that there could be a company behind this hoping now to sell you, and your friends, and their friends something.

Pressing Like is similar to giving out your email address to everyone!

We at Rocket Branding do not advocate trickery for successful brand building. ‘Likes’ may ultimately be important to your brand’s growth, and if so, then we will recommend some very sound and legitimate ways to do it and win in this arena. What say you?

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Beauty is skin deep, so they say. So is branding today.

Appearance is becoming the new arbiter of preference.

In last week’s Academy Awards, the actors and actresses were judged as much on what they were wearing on the red carpet as for their award winning roles.

The entire political arena is now more about how a candidate looks on the “national news” and, in a recent study, apparently if you are overweight you will have a harder time swaying a jury than if you are slim.

And check this out.

It’s hard to believe this great track came from this group.

No, this is not a lament about superficiality. I think it goes deeper than that. The pace of preference has quickened. With immediate, 24/7 digital access to anything and everything, single action-touch/click/swipe decisions, instant news in 140 characters, we are learning how to quickly see and judge what is most right and relevant for us. So, we at Rocket Branding are thinking about how this new behavior effects the creation and building of fast growing brands.

In some respects this actually makes branding easier. Get the visual appearance of your brand right (logo, product/package design, site, marketing materials etc.) and you are already on the road to preference. Easier said than done of course.

One tip is to use the ‘squint test’. Seeing the brand package or logo is one thing but ‘seeing’ what the brand story is another. Identify your brand’s key growth customer or consumer, have them squint their eyes at different brand presentations and have them tell you what they see.

Often they will tell you what they want to see and ‘boom’ there it is…you have your winning approach. Importantly they will also tell you what doesn’t work…the visual presentation just does not connect the dots for them and as such fails the appearance test.

Study brands like Starbucks, Apple and Harley Davidson. Icons no less, in large part, because they got the visual aspects of their brand right. Certainly they did receive some advertising support in their history but this is not what drove their appeal. No, they built visual brands that consumers flocked to and still do. They understand the power of appearance and made it a foundation for their brand.

We at Rocket Branding live this stuff everyday and would be honored to help you build your brand fast. Visit www.rocketbranding .com and buy our new book.              

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SNAUSAGES! SNAUSAGES! How Do Big Brand Names Happen?

Where do popular brand names come from?

There are strategic and creative processes that will produce the name and certainly Rocket Branding is on top of that list.

But sometimes it is just serendipity.

Snausages, one of the more successful doggie treat brands, is a prime example of happenstance.

My team, at JWT, was trying to work out how to launch this new, hot dog-like treat and, yes it was late in the day and, yes pizza and wine were being served (not beer…we were classy).

The sausage on the pizza, however, had a weird taste to me. I announced that it “was not sausage”. Unfortunately with my accent the others thought I was saying ‘snausages’ and, of course, much laughter and mockery ensued.

When the list of possible names for this new product was shown to the client, ‘LA Doggers’ was on the top, but ‘Snausages’ was also added at the bottom…almost as an inside joke.

Dennis Yader, a young art director did not see it that way. He couldn’t let go of the Snausages name and went ahead and created a rough storyboard for a television campaign featuring a crazy frenetic dog looking for the new treat. It was thrown in testing with the other contenders and ‘boom’, it blew the top of the research.

Dennis’s original, roughly drawn storyboard not only became the launch TV campaign but it drove everything from package design to marketing tactics.

Here is that original campaign. It built the brand for many years.

It’s amazing what happens when talented people find something to laugh at…hopefully not always at my expense.

Read more about the Snausages story and why it worked.  Go to and buy the book. The case is on page 171.

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After watching the annual Super Bowl parade of ‘super’ commercials, it tickles me, that the two deemed best, were based on the same thing that has worked forever…. emotional brand stories.

Nothing works better for iconic brands in major events than ‘heroic’ stories like Paul Harvey’s rendition of the American farmer for Dodge, or the heartfelt story of the Budweiser Clydesdale.

The same is true for last year’s winner, Cadillac, and its story about saving Detroit, and who can forget the famous Mean Joe Greene, Coca Cola spot where he gave his jersey to a kid for a Coke.

Coca Cola has unfortunately forgotten this. Their Super Bowl spots used to be the showcase. Not sure their latest desert race spot did a whole lot (maybe socially?). It certainly had no emotional brand story and consequently is easily forgotten.

Sure ‘sex sells’ (Go Daddy, Kate Upton/Mercedes) and sight gags (VW) and trick effects (Doritos) will always get attention and for today—viral buzz, but they never quite work as hard or as deep as the time honored emotional stories do.

The same is true for campaigns that are not necessarily on the Super Bowl.

Some 40 years ago I wrote a tag line for V8, “Wow, I could’ve had a V8”.

This line, in fact, was a mini brand story, in and of itself, and although the emotion was not at all as heroic as for the Super Bowl, it was certainly true to the brand and the emotion surrounding it. It came right out of the mouths of consumers …  with a tinge of self -annoyance on their part.

That human reaction not only confirmed that the brand was good and acceptable and worth remembering…something that has allowed it to survive and grow despite some 40 years of  continuous competition from 100’s of new beverages.

So the brand tip of the day … find the emotional story for your brand and it will last forever.

For more about the V8 story, health brands and 20 others, refer to my new book at and let me know what you think?




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With over a billion users, ‘social media’ was certainly the media buzz in 2012.

2013 will be no different. Can it grow to 2 billion users?

Why not…new users of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram etc. are signing up and instantly sharing everyday. And even more interesting is the addiction to checking updates on mobile devices.

All those people you see hunched over their cell phones and tablets on the bus or train or coffee shop are more often than not checking into their social networks.

That’s all great but as everyone knows these sites are largely based on personal not commercial interactions. It’s tough to find a vibrant social community committed to discussing and sharing the latest toilet paper brand let alone accepting brand advertising on their smart phones.

So should you ‘rocket’ your brand on social media?   Absolutely!  As a brand marketer you cannot afford to disregard a behavior that in the next 2-3 years could involve 50-60% of your consumers or customers for as much as 20 -30 times a day. It is not just a question of trying to get attention here but it is also about being integrally involved in new habits and behaviors that in many cases will lead to all kinds of new products and experiences.

Trust me if you do not learn how to engage your brand in this new set of digital experiences your competitors will, and by doing so, leave you several chapters behind in the learning curve.

Ok smart guy, how?   Actually the answer is a lot simpler than you would think.  

1.    Forget the medium and think about the behavior. The only difference with social media is that it is personal and the sharing is about stuff that is interesting or relevant to a particular group.  So forget about trying to place an ad. Create interesting content. Provide relevant knowledge. A colleague used to create one-page novels and one-minute movies around a brand story. He was ahead of his time.

2.    Find the ‘what’s in it for me’

YouTube cracked the code on this by allowing you to share an outrageous video or laugh with your friends. The big daddy question is what is in it for your consumers and customers that they would want to share with their buddies and cohorts (and you).

You are not creating a brand message but a brand currency… something that your brand target would find interesting and relevant enough to get you invited into their world and shared with their connections.

‘Save the world’ causes sponsored by your brand and special deals are oft used example of getting branded traction among a certain community of consumers or customers.  We’d say go further and really dig into what about the brand category if anything has real ‘what’s in it for me’ potential and social significance to your brand target.

So for even the toilet paper brand, maybe your target is ‘soccer moms’ and they are becoming more afraid of public soccer field restrooms and want some advice and maybe even a discussion forum on making them safer. They may want an app that shows the cleanest/safest facilities or would even be open to sampling a new portable, discreet spray product that they advocate to others?   Whatever, again it’s about the behavior insight not about finding an advertising opportunity in the medium.

We at, Rocket Branding, have built an entire new discipline around gaining Social Traction for your brand in this brave new world.   Let us help you compete here. Visit or call 312 951 5178.  

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