On June 16, 1997, at age 27, I placed a bet on myself, eliminated my steady paycheck, and hung out my shingle as a positioning and strategy consultant.

My employment record at that time included nearly five years as a marketer manager at Van Melle, where I launched products like White Mystery Airheads and the Airheads 6-bar pack. It was an outstanding crash-course in both positioning and the art of doing more with less. We racked up some impressive numbers and had plenty of laughs.

I then joined a Fortune 200 company as a Group Brand Manager. I resigned that…

“If the big boys are doing it, it must be working.”

~ a former boss, who could not have been more wrong on this point

It hasn’t been the best few weeks for Peloton.

There was the treadmill recall in the first week of May. That’s been covered elsewhere, but suffice to say Peloton’s response was not what it should have been.

I’m not here to dogpile on that, though incidents like this do make one question one’s loyalty.

Meanwhile, Peloton has also made some inexplicable changes to its user experience — and, in particular, the Peloton scenic rides that…

“As a one-person operation, I can only do so many things to grow my business. So I need to choose wisely. But sometimes I’m paralyzed by the sheer number of options. How do I know which choices are best for me?”

I coach other freelancers, and that’s how I’d summarize one of the top struggles they report.

As an independent consultant myself for over 20 years, I’ve lived the struggle. It’s like standing before one of those endless Vegas buffets; how can you choose when you can’t even wrap your head around all the options?

This is the challenging flip-side…

In my last post, I proposed five principles of brand differentiation:

1. The goal is not “difference.” The goal is value and meaning.

2. Differentiation is not something you find. It’s something you create.

3. In branding, as in life, what we do matters more than what we say.

4. “Best” is relative.

5. Be precise with your Who. Be creative with your How.

These are the starting points. But if you’ve ever attempted to cut your own hair during a pandemic — speaking hypothetically, of course! — you know there can be a huge gap between “best intentions” and…

Harvard’s Michael Porter famously said that there are exactly two ways to compete: Cost leadership and differentiation.

Are you Walmart or Amazon? No? Then differentiation seems like the way to go.

Practical example: If you own an independent flooring store, and a Home Depot opens up half a mile away, do you really think you’re going to beat them on price? Time to start thinking about playing a game you can win.

The trouble is, many products, services and brands have no real point of difference. Which means they’re in trouble. If you’re not different, you’re dying.

So here are…

There’s a question that’s asked far too rarely as we develop brand and business strategies. It’s simple but extremely powerful, since it shapes everything that you’ll do as a team or organization.

The question:

Who do we want to be?

It’s challenging to lead an organization in the best of times. In a time of scarcity — like the one we recently, abruptly entered — it can feel impossible.

But navigating difficulty is one of the roles of a leader. As FDR said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

Photo by the author via Canva

I’ve been working with my clients to answer questions…

“Which ad did you like best?” is about the worst question to ask.

Friends, the Super Bowl is just a few days away. That means the Super Bowl ads are just a few days away. And that means the advertising media, and a few pundits, are working themselves into a lather right about now.

Take Gary Vaynerchuk. He’s on record as saying:

“Super Bowl ads are underpriced. Yeah, I said it.”

(“Super Bowl Ads Aren’t Expensive Enough,” Medium.com, Jan. 29, 2015)


“When I buy my first brand, the first thing I’m gonna do is run multiple Super Bowl ads.”

(ANA Masters of Marketing Conference, 2016)

See that? Gary Vee doesn’t even know…

Matthew Fenton

I write about brand strategy & freelancing. Ex-CMO. Music junkie. For brand leaders: https://matthew-fenton.com/ For freelancers: https://winningsolo.com/

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