All Posts By

BJ Bueno & Scott Jeffrey

7 Reasons to Obsess About Your Best Customers

Friends and shopping
THE BIG IDEA: Here are seven benefits for making your best customers the central focus of your organization’s primary directive.


No matter how big your marketing budget, you can’t market to everyone. The more restricted your budget, the more intelligent your approach needs to be.

Your best customers are your Brand Lovers. Understanding the needs of your Brand Lovers and serving them better than anyone else is critical if you want to outmaneuver the competition and grow your market share.

Here are seven reasons why your Brand Lovers are so important:

  1. Your Brand Lovers choose you more often than your competitors. To most Mac users, there’s no alternative competitor to choose from.
  2. Your Brand Lovers spread the word about your brand and create new customers for you. Basically, your best customers are the source of your word-of-mouth stream.
  3. Your Brand Lovers are by nature loyal customers. Customer loyalty is a better determinant of profitability than mass appeal.
  4. Focusing on your Brand Lovers gives your organization a singular vision of whom you’re trying to serve. Too many companies chase too many different kinds of customers and dilute their efforts in the process.
  5. Similarly, serving your best customers can lead to explosive return on investment (ROI). Example: When Apple opened their retail stores they expected to generate $1,000/square foot. They actually generated $4,000/square foot. Ultimately, your Brand Lovers drive the profitability of your business.
  6. Think about what would happen if you turned just 10% of your occasional customers into Brand Lovers. For large enterprises, this shift can represent a sizeable revenue increase.
  7. By focusing on your Brand Lovers, you can build a powerful brand that stands for something meaningful to them. This gives you clear differentiation in the marketplace and helps you organically attract more of your most profitable customers.

The bottom line is that serving your best customers is the surest way to grow a strong, profitable business—in any economic climate.

Four Areas That Drive Sustainable Growth

bonsai tree on a white background
THE BIG IDEA: Executive leaders are faced with a big question: Who should they put first: customers, employees, shareholders, or management? The best answer lies in understanding how each area relates to the other.


Who comes first in your business?

  1. Customers
  2. Employees
  3. Shareholders
  4. Management

This is one of those frustrating questions. You can make an argument for each answer:

A. Put Customers First

Customers are the lifeblood of your business. As management thinker Peter Drucker always said, “the purpose of business is to create a customer.”

Many businesses give lip services to the “customers first” idea, but only a few actualize it—L.L. Bean, Costco,, MINI USA, Trader Joe’s, to name a few. CEO Jeff Bezos says one of their three big ideas that made Amazon successful was: “Put the customer first.” McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc said, “Always put the customer first and success will be yours.”

B. Put Employees First

If you create customers by providing value to them, how do you deliver this value? Through your employees.

Companies like The Container Store, Southwest Airlines, Google, Patagonia, and Zappos are high fliers, in part, because of their “employees first” mantra.

Virgin CEO Richard Branson has a simple formula: happy employees equal happy customers. The converse is also true: unhappy employees create terrible customer experiences and destroy brand equity.

Branson says, “Put your staff first, customers second, and shareholders third.”

Branson’s priorities echo Southwest Airlines’ founder and former CEO Herbert Kelleher: “Take care of your employees and they will take care of the customers.”

C. Put Shareholders First

This has been a popular answer for many publicly-traded companies in the era of shareholder capitalism. Investors often look for businesses that put shareholders first.

Customers, however, don’t care about shareholder value. And this directive doesn’t resonate within organizations either. The goal of “maximizing shareholder value” doesn’t motivate employees or drive high performance.

This priority can help improve cost management and operational accountability. But, too often, over-emphasizing shareholder value leads executives to focus on the short term (quarter to quarter metrics) at the cost of long-term profitability and sustainability.

D. Put Management First

There’s two ways to look at this answer. First, it can be used by selfish, self-interested executives driven by greed and personal gain.

Or, second, it can be based on a profound, but often neglected truth: you can’t effectively serve others if you don’t first invest in yourself.

As PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi explains, “If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself and the organization gets pulled up with you … I cannot just expect the organization to improve if I don’t improve myself and lift the organization.”

Where’s Option EAll of the Above?

The reality of modern business is that you can’t afford to focus on one of these area at the expense of the others.

These four areas form a symbiotic relationship: the role of management is to take care of its employees. Employees serve customers. Customers increase shareholder value, which in turn, elevates management. And the upward spiral continues.

Based on the internal strengths of your enterprise, you may have an emphasis on one of these four categories, but leaders looking to compete in a fast-changing marketplace will consciously drive growth in all of them. Doing so will strengthen your business and increase your chances of long-term market success.

Where No CEO Has Gone Before …

THE BIG IDEA: Courage and boldness are defining characteristics of visionary CEOs committed to customer-centric innovation and redefining their markets.


Your starship is staffed with competent officers who possess specialized training and knowledge.

Your warp drive is ready. That is, you possess the creative capital, ingenuity, and resolve necessary to enter new, uncharted territory.

You need only give the officer manning the Flight Control the proper coordinates and say, “Make it so.”

The adventure into the unknown takes boldness and courage—one of the Seven Rules of Cult Brands.

Cult Brands are successful because they are willing to be unlike every other competitor in their market. They cut through a sea of doubt, criticism, and opposing market forces, daring to stand strong for what they believe while blazing ahead.

The Courage to Invent, Fail, and Be Patient’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, has been willing to operate his mega-retail business at a loss for nearly 20 years, staying true to his vision of Amazon being “the earth’s most customer centric company” and “to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Bezos doesn’t only demonstrate the courage to innovate. He shows the courage to experiment continuously and to fail often. And most of all, he demonstrates the courage to be patient.

“I don’t think that you can invent on behalf of customers unless you’re willing to think long-term, because a lot of invention doesn’t work,” Bezos explains. “If you’re going to invent, it means you’re going to experiment, and if you’re going to experiment, you’re going to fail, and if you’re going to fail, you have to think long term.”

One such invention is their Amazon Prime program. An estimated 40 million customers now pay $99 annually to receive free two-day shipping and other perks like free streaming video and music. Prime customers spend more than twice non-Prime members.

A recent study of online shoppers found that less than 1% of Prime shoppers (versus non-Prime) are likely to consider other mass-market retail sites like and in the same shopping session. Amazon Prime is essentially eliminating the competition from the mind of Amazon Prime customers. A bold innovation.

The Courage to Reinvent Your Organization

For your enterprise to go boldly into the future, you need a high degree of collaboration among your people. The culture and environment of your workplace is a deciding factor in your ability to navigate into uncharted, often precarious market conditions.

Few CEOs appreciate the power of culture as much as Zappos’ Tony Hsieh who built his online retail business around the concept of core values.

Hsieh is once again pushing into uncharted space, eliminating all management positions in his company. Called a holacracy, this management structure moves beyond the traditional top-down hierarchy by providing an open system that supports self-management and self-organization.

Hsieh notes that studies show that when cities double in size, innovation or productivity per resident increase by 15 percent. In businesses, however, innovation or productivity per employee tends to decrease as companies grow.

“In a city, people and businesses are self-organizing,” Hsieh explains. “We’re trying to do the same thing by switching from a normal hierarchical structure to a system called Holacracy, which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.”

Can you imagine what would happen if your employees become fully self-directed and self-managed? What kind of innovation, productivity and growth can develop in an organization that forms a fluid, dynamic, and integrated whole, operating at a level far greater than the sum of its parts?

The Courage to Operate with Integrity

As Chipotle Mexican Grill started to grow, founder and co-CEO Steve Ells became aware of how food was produced and processed in the United States.

He discovered a sad state of affairs: animals like pigs and dairy cows were confined in stark pens. Cattle, pigs, dairy cows, and chickens were injected with hormones and antibiotics that injured both the animals and the humans that consumed them.

Chipotle launched the “Food with Integrity” initiative to highlight their commitment to sustainable farming and sourcing livestock and produce from ranchers and farmers who employ humane, chemical-free raising methods.

With over 1,800 locations and a market capitalization of $20 billion, Chipotle has almost single-handedly proven that sustainable food sourcing is profitable, not just an ideal.

And the company continues to find creative ways to educate and inform its customers about their mission.

Where Will You Take Your Enterprise?

Visionary CEOs hold a clear vision in mind. This alone takes courage. Then they inspire their organization to actualize that vision. This takes boldness.

Remembering that the purpose of your business is to create customers and serve them better than anyone else, where are you leading your organization?

What big problems are you going to solve for your customers? Where is no other businesses in your category willing to go? How can you redefine your industry?

A Purpose-Driven Business

A Purpose Driven Business
THE BIG IDEA: Today’s article asks executive leaders to take a step back and evaluate their business with some big questions that underlie the foundation of their enterprise.


If you were asked by someone to define your business, how would you answer?

  • Would you explain what services you provide?
  • What products you manufacture or sell?
  • What makes you different from your competitors?

Management guru Peter Drucker suggests that there is only one true way to define a business: by the want the customer satisfies when she buys a product or a service from you.

Satisfying the customer’s want is the purpose of every business.

What Business Are You In?

How, then, do you answer the question: “What is our business?”

You look at your business from the outside; you take the customer’s and the market’s viewpoint.

Drucker explains: “What the customer sees, thinks, believes, and wants, at any given time, must be accepted by management as an objective fact and must be taken as seriously as the reports of the salesperson, the tests of the engineer, or the figures of the accountant.

“And management,” Drucker continues, “must make a conscious effort to get answers from the customer herself rather than attempt to read her mind.”

Drucker wrote this in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practice, originally published in 1973. Over four decades later, his words are just as relevant—and just as often ignored.

How to Define Your Business

To more precisely define your business, Drucker offers two powerful questions:

  1. Who is the customer?
  2. What is value to the customer?

The first question is a master work in itself. How deep you go in defining your customer is an indication of your commitment to serving your customers. Last month, we offered seven customers insights we feel every CEO should investigate.

The second question is very important too. Most business leaders may be certain they know the answer, but, Drucker points out, they are almost always incorrect.

Why? Because business executives tend to define value based on what they perceive as value.

What Do Your Customers Value?

“The customer never buys a product,” Drucker writes. “By definition the customer buys the satisfaction of a want. He buys value.”

For a teenage boy who buys a pair of Vans shoes, that value might be identification with a subculture.

For a 35-year-old mother shopping at Target, that value might be fashion and convenience.

For a 55-year-old executive ordering on Zappos, that value might be breadth of selection.

Different customers value different things. Drucker points out that the question of value is so complicated that management shouldn’t even try to guess the answer.

You have to go directly to your customers.

A Crash Course in Social Marketing

THE BIG IDEA: The study of Cult Brands reveals a wealth of information about human behavior and the mechanisms behind effective social marketing. Today’s article is a launchpad for chief executives interested in expanding their understanding of this discipline.


Do you sell products or experiences?

Do you focus exclusively on profits or inclusively as a community?

Do you try to copy your competitors or demonstrate courage and dare to be different?

These are some of the questions that assess if your company is moving closer to your customers or further away.

The topic of social marketing is important to chief executives because it puts a magnifying glass on the companies that most excel at moving toward their customers. This specialized study brings meaning to concepts like “customer loyalty” and “brand loyalty.”

Some of the most successful social marketers are Cult Brands because they draw from the power of humanity. If you’re new to this topic or interested in deepening your knowledge, here are a selection of past articles that will give you the competitive edge:

Social Marketing Fundamentals

A host of defining principles enable businesses to tap into the social and psychological lives of their customers:

What Are Cult Brands

A closer look at what Cult Brands are (and what they are not).

Seven Rules of Cult Brands

All Cult Brands knowingly or unconsciously adhere to these seven powerful principles.

How to Start a Cult

Explores five psychological reasons people join groups and seven steps to creating a cult, tribe, movement—whatever you’d like to call it.

Why Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is Crucial for your Business

Psychologist Abraham Maslow has greatly influenced our understanding of Cult Brands. His categories of human needs help explain both consumer motivation and organizational behavior. Psychologist Clayton Alderfer’s adjustments to Maslow’s theory of motivation are insightful too.

What Social Marketers Do Differently

Customer-centric businesses harness the social forces of their customers in specific ways:

A Big Mistake Most Retailers Make

Cult Brands sell experiences and lifestyles, not products.

How Cult Brands Tap into Higher Values

Cult Brands go beyond just helping customers meet basic human needs to helping them realize higher level needs as well.

How to Draw Power From Your Enemies

Cult Brands sell freedom.

How Cult Brands Create Loyal Customers

Cult Brands give their customers a sense of belonging and more positive self-esteem.

How Cult Brands Create Magical Experiences for Customers

Many Cult Brands set up the conditions for “participation mystique” that enables customers to express a deeper part of themselves and forge strong bonds with each other.

A Masters Degree in Human Nature

In the final analysis, the study of Cult Brands is a study of human beings: their needs, tensions, desires, dreams, motivations, and values.

Reading the above articles won’t win you any business degrees, but it will profoundly alter how you perceive your customers.

It may even alter your organization’s approach to serving your fellow human beings who graciously give you their business (thereby fueling your business).

When this relationship between company and customers is fostered consciously, it forms a symbiotic exchange of value. Both company and customer are elevated. Everyone wins.


An Executive’s Guide to the Ultimate Foursome

THE BIG IDEA: Goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics are four powerful tools for providing organizational direction and achieving results when chief executives can clearly differentiate between each of them and know how each one relates to the whole.


On the third move of a chess game, nine million positions are possible.

This is only a board game. Imagine how many more options you and your team face in the normal course of business.

New campaigns, new markets, new customers, new product launches, repositioning … your options are endless. In this confusion, you can sink into a vast ocean of to-dos, of action for action’s sake.

When this happens, you start confusing motion with progress, busy-ness with business.

We live in get-it-done-now world. The temptation will always be to become tactical first and fast, to focus on getting things done ASAP.

If this cycle is not understood correctly, you can unknowingly trap your teams in endless meetings and empty tasks with only marginal progress on the horizon.

In order to avoid this maze of confusion, infuse your thought process with four simple distinctions: goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics.

  1. A goal establishes your target—the end picture of what you want to achieve.
  2. A strategy sets your basic guidelines and approaches to realizing the goal.
  3. An objective is a key result you set in order to execute a strategy.
  4. A tactic is an action step or tool used to achieve an objective associated with a strategy.

These four elements are great companions in leading your organization because they give you the cohesion to keep everyone on your team moving in the same direction.

Goals: Establishing Your Desired End Picture

The team whose coach says, “We are going to make it to the super bowl,” makes it to the big game … then loses.

The team who wins never intended to just get there. Their coach said, “We are winning the whole damn thing!”

When setting goals you have to state exactly what you want.

Southwest Airline’s primary goal is to operate a low-cost business in order to offer low-cost fares to their customers.

Walt Disney World’s primary goal is to make attendees (of all ages) of their parks happy.

Strategies: Determining the Best Approach

Once you know the end picture, you need to develop your strategies.

Your strategies are how you grow and manage your business. There are three core categories of business strategies: operations, marketing, and innovation.

There are countless strategies in each of these categories. We conjured up 52 of them for marketing alone.

Strategies developed in each of these key areas should help the business realize its primary goal.

Everything you and your employees do—every single activity that influences the business and affects your customers—should push a defined strategy forward.

All employees need to clearly know, understand, and internalize these key strategies so they are empowered to make decisions and take actions that will move the organization closer to the goal.

One of Southwest’s key operations strategy is built into its goal: operate a low-cost airline. Only if they can operate a low-cost airline can they hope to offer low-cost fares, which they have been doing successfully for over 30 years.

Disney’s key operations strategy is to create a magical experience for every customer who enters their theme park.

Objectives: Defining the Critical Results

To execute your strategies effectively, there are certain conditions that must be in place for your end goal to be realized. Your critical objectives are these conditions.

Southwest realized that they make money when their planes are in the air; they spend money when their planes are on the ground. They created an objective to get off the ground fast.

But to make objectives actionable, they need to be specific and measurable. You need to be able to clearly determine if the objective is achieved or not.

Southwest invented the “10-minute turn” to get their planes in the air quickly. Their objective was to get off the ground in under 10 minutes. Today, with larger aircrafts, their turn time is now 25 minutes, but this on-going objective still helps them keep fares low.

Disney executives realized that every employee of the park will likely interact with customers at different times. And these chance encounters either help create magic or kill it. In order to create a magical experience for every customer who enters their park, they set an objective that every employee must help create this desired experience.

Tactics: Deploying Effective Actions

Having a strategy won’t automatically make the tactics apparent, but understanding your critical objectives will help make these choices clear.

Executives who solely focus on tactics too easily abandon the overall strategy and its objectives when a tactic fails. They confuse a tactic with the objective.

When a coach loses a game, he doesn’t change the objective of winning the championship. He simply changes his approach after learning what he can from his prior failure.

Tactics often fail. You still have to spend endless hours testing and retesting, refining and thinking about your tactics.

Southwest deploys numerous tactics to execute their low-cost strategy. For example, it only flies one type of aircraft: three models of the Boeing 737, which creates efficiencies in training and maintenance. Their open seating initiative helps passengers flow onto the aircraft faster, reducing Southwest’s turn time (how quickly they get back in the air). A faster turn translates to a more profitable airline.

One of the most effective tactics Disney deploys to help ensure that their customers experience a magical day is their employee training. Disney University is a three to four week training that every Disney employee in their park system must go through, whether you’re a janitor or a park executive.

Leading with Vision

If you want to steer your business toward a new, compelling, and sustainable future, you first need to have a clear vision in mind.

You can’t expect anyone to understand your vision unless the direction is clear within yourself.

Goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics provide a top-down approach to leading and managing your organization. They are four invaluable friends on your journey to growth and outperformance.

May this New Year bring you inspiration, passion, and clarity for the adventure that lies before you.

Close Encounters of the Customer Kind


THE BIG IDEA: Customer obsession is a fundamental characteristic of long-term, outperforming leadership. Inspired leaders find practical ways to keep their top executives connected to the front lines of their business.


Sitting in their corner offices with unfettered views of the city skyline, like the untouchable professors hiding away in their ivory towers, it’s all too easy for chief-level executives to become far removed from their customers.

Outperforming leaders of Cult Brands and other businesses with loyal customers, however, demonstrate a desire to know their customers. The great ones, like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, obsess about them.

How Inspired Leaders Stay Connected to Their Customers

Sam Walton, the late founder and CEO of Wal-Mart, scripted one of his ten rules of success:

“Listen to everyone in your company, and figure out ways to get them talking. The folks on the front line—the ones who actually talk to customers—are the only ones who really know what’s going on out there. You’d better find out what they know.”

Walton kept his sights grounded by communicating directly with the associates working the floors. He also democratized the corporate structure through his “cross-pollination” efforts where managers from different departments swapped jobs, to keep them challenged and on top of the market.

Like Walton, Colleen Barrett, retired president of Southwest Airlines, understood the value of cooperation, teamwork, and empathy in bridging divides. In the early 1990s, Barrett established the Culture Committee to preserve and enhance the airline’s unique culture.

One project was the “Days in the Field” program where executives and managers spend a day every quarter doing front-line work. You might see senior officers serving as flight attendants, baggage checkers, or ‘appearance technicians,’ working through the night to ensure that the planes are clean for the next day’s flights.

IKEA’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, instituted a similar initiative to foster egalitarianism, stave off the bureaucratic mindset, and keep decision makers in touch.

During “anti-bureaucracy week,” executives are required to leave the comforts of their corporate offices and work the front lines of IKEA’s stores for an entire week. During the week, you’ll see chief officers manning registers, hauling furniture, and helping customers in the showroom.

Yet there is one caveat.

“All of the executives must be there on weekends, when the stores are the busiest, teeming with shoppers of all kinds,” explains IKEA country manager Kent Nordin. “It’s not enough to check in on a Monday and out on a Thursday afternoon. You have to be there when the heat is on.”

If you’re a retailer, can you imagine working the registers this Friday? Does the thought terrify you or excite you? Imagine how much you can learn about your customers on the biggest shopping day of the year?

The Art of Listening to Your Customers

Being on the frontlines has several advantages. It increases managerial empathy while decreasing bureaucracy. It improves cooperation and strengthens the corporate culture. It provides intimate customer knowledge, leading to more effective decisions in marketing, product development, and corporate strategy.

Listening is the cornerstone of the world’s best businesses because it leads to the discovery of what will surprise, amuse, and reward its customers.

Turning a deaf ear to the life blood of your business will keep you sheltered from the day-in-day-out realities of your company’s operations. In today’s competitive and constantly changing marketplace, you can’t afford to be deaf.

Are you willing to get onto the frontlines?

Can you hear what your customers are saying?

Happy Thanksgiving from your Cult Branding team!


P.S. BJ Bueno was recently interviewed by The Customer Edge to find out how to extend the buzz beyond Black Friday. Read the interview here.

Archetypes and the Fate of Your Business

THE BIG IDEA: All businesses are run by archetypes. Some know it. Most don’t. When you understand how archetypes work, you can better position your business in the marketplace, attracting the right employees and loyal customers.


Why do tens of thousands of riders flock to Milwaukee for Harley-Davidson’s annual rally?

Why do hundreds of customers camp outside of IKEA’s latest store opening?

Why do over a thousand Motorers drive over 5,000 miles across the United States in MINI’s Take the State tour?

What are these brands doing to create cult followers? And what can it teach us about creating customer loyalty?

Needs: The Biological Drivers of Human Behavior

These unusual businesses—Cult Brands as we call them—achieve this unusual level of loyalty because they do more than just sell products or services.

They help fulfill their customers’ human needs, creating experiences steeped with emotion.

These human needs stem from instincts and operate at the deepest level of our biology.

Much of human behavior is a consequence of our attempts to meet these needs.

As you’ll recall, psychologist Abraham Maslow arranged these human needs in a hierarchy, with higher-level needs less likely to be fulfilled.

These needs, in ascending order, are biological/physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, cognitive, aesthetic, self-actualization, and transcendence.

The lower level needs, sometimes called existence needs, are fundamental and essential to daily life. Humans focus on meeting these needs first.

Higher Level Needs: What Cult Brands Do Differently

While most businesses help customers address lower level needs (as a supermarket provides food and water at the biological level), Cult Brands leverage higher-level needs to develop mutually beneficial relationships with their customers.

Cult Brands like Harley-Davidson, Vans, and Linux play to the esteem needs for freedom.

Nike and Under Armour hit on the esteem needs for dominance and mastery.

Apple supports the aesthetic need for creative self-expression. Oprah champions the self-actualization need for personal growth.

Maslow’s hierarchy helps explain why customers love their favorite brands, but it isn’t the whole story.

Archetypes: The Psychological Drivers of Human Behavior

In addition to the biological motivations categorized by Maslow, there are also psychic influences. In psychology, psyche means the totality of the human mind, including both conscious and unconscious processes.

Psychiatrist Carl Jung observed that the psyche consists mainly of images. Many of these images are of a collective nature. They are found all over the earth in our myths, dreams, fairy tales, and legends. He called these primordial images archetypes.

Archetypes explains consumers’ love for their favorite brands at the level of the psyche.

Archetypes are universal mental images. They set the patterns of behavior for our interaction with the world. We inherit these images in our brain structure.

Instincts: The Forces Behind Archetypes

Jung described archetypes as “instinctual images” or “the forms which the instincts assume.”

Instincts are physiological urges. Our senses perceive them. But simultaneously, instincts come alive in fantasies and in symbolic images, that is, in archetypes.

This means that archetypes and instincts go hand in hand. For this reason, archetypal images trigger set patterns of behavior designed to actualize the images.

No matter what image of the Hero you hold in your mind, for example, certain patterns of behavior and personality traits come to mind like bravery, valor, persistence, and action.

Examples of archetypes include the Mother, Father, Warrior, Sage, Hero, Caregiver, Genius, Outlaw, Magician, Mentor, Actor, Athlete, Philosopher, Peacemaker, Prostitute, Artist, Adventurer, Maverick, Monk, Entertainer, Jester, Villain, and Vampire. But, ultimately, every word or image can represent an archetype.

When you think of archetypes, think of instincts or set patterns of behavior shared by all of humanity.

Archetypal Clusters: Nike and Under Armour

Archetypes don’t operate in a vacuum. Archetypal images tend to cluster together, like a constellation of stars. These archetypal clusters share certain personality traits.

The archetypes of the Warrior and the Athlete, for example, share many of the same qualities, including strength, endurance, courage, and fearlessness.

But each archetype also emphasizes certain traits: The Athlete has a disciplined mindset with a persistence toward a certain achievement. The Warrior, in contrast, emphasizes conviction and dominance.

Both Nike and Under Armour play to this archetypal cluster. In the ads of both brands, you’ll find serious, rugged expressions; Warriors and Athletes aren’t jovial and lighthearted.

Nike predominantly capitalizes on the Warrior archetype by using battle imagery in its depiction of athletes. They tend to use top professional athletes in their campaigns, playing on the projected ideal of the dominant Warrior archetype.

Under Armour hits on the Warrior, but focuses more on the Athlete. Instead of using celebrity athletes, Under Armour uses everyday athletes in their advertisements (which arguably make the brand more accessible to its customers).

Ultimately, customers who buy Nike and Under Armour products associate themselves with both the Warrior and Athlete archetypes, to varying degrees. They are also fulfilling their esteem needs of dominance, mastery, and achievement.

Remember, human needs and archetypes dance together, one supports and uplifts the other.

Long-term Success: Know Your Business’s Archetypes

Knowing your business’s archetypes is like knowing the DNA of your organization. It is from these fundamental symbolic images that all of the desired behavior for employees and customers spring.

Under Armour’s Baltimore, Maryland headquarters houses a 10,000-square-foot state-of-the-art gym that hosts group fitness classes and competitions. Athletic warriors need a training ground. Under Armour is a company of athletic warriors serving athletic warriors. (They call them “empowered athletes.”)

Creating an irreplaceable position in your customer’s mind takes conscious effort and consistency. When you know your archetypes, you can ensure consistency throughout all of your marketing efforts, including product development and communication.

Your goal is twofold:

  1. Uncover the symbolic images and emotions that best express what your business is about in the context of your customers’ lives.
  2. Determine the humans needs your customers are trying to fulfill when your archetypes are active in their minds.

These are key consumer insights that can transform the future of your business. Once you have these insights, find creative ways to consistently play to and express these images and needs in ways that are meaningful to your customers and your employees.


P.S. Listen to BJ Bueno discuss the future of retail with SAP’s Global Vice President’s Nancy Case and best-selling author Scott McKain, titled, Retail Relevancy: Distinction Trumps Differentiation.

Retail’s Secret Weapon


THE BIG IDEA: In a demanding retail environment where customers shop online more frequently, retailers with physical spaces have an opportunity to create atmospheres where customers want to gather, not just shop.


You have an hour to meet with a friend to catch up.

Or, you and a colleague want to brainstorm a new product idea outside of the office.

Or, you have a free Saturday out with your two daughters.

Where do you go?

Our primary and most familiar setting is our home. The second most familiar is our workplace. We most often interact in these two places.

The Third Place

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third place” to distinguish a location where people meet and gather outside the home and office.

Neuroscience continues to confirm Aristotle’s observation: we are social animals. Social animals have a need to gather, connect, and interact with one another.

As we’ve learned from Maslow’s work, we all share the basic human need to feel like we belong.

But where can we gather? On a warm, sunny day, we can go to a park. The rest of the time (especially for most urbanites), we end up at Starbucks.

Food and Drink

Starbucks consciously used the third place concept to insert itself into the American urban landscape more swiftly than any retailer in history. CEO Howard Schultz came to the idea after a trip to Italy in 1983 where he was inspired by their coffee bars and the gestalt of the Italian coffee experience.

Third places often involve food and drink. Not only does eating and drinking support basic biological needs, eating and drinking together help strengthen social bonds.

Not surprisingly, many retailers have integrated food and drink into their in-store experience. IKEA sports its own restaurant at numerous locations. Whole Food Market goes a step further, offering juice bars, icecream stations, self-serve hot food with cafeteria seating, and even a wine bar. Numerous retailers, including Barnes & Noble, have licensed Starbucks stores within their retail spaces.

What would your local mall be without a food court? It’s in the space between the mall’s stores that provide an atmosphere to gather, especially if you’re a teenage mallrat.

Creating a third place, however, isn’t just about having food and drink. Costco, Target, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s Club have their own eateries in most locations, but you’re unlikely to want to hangout there.

Panera Bread Company, in contrast, has consciously created a warm, cozy atmosphere with comfortable seating. Their environment invites you to stay, catch up with friends, check your email, or read a book.

A Dark Future For Brick and Mortar Retail?

Will the Internet eventually make retail locations obsolete?

It’s a familiar question to any executive that trudged through the early days of the Internet jungle. Dotcoms were in. Brick and mortars were dinosaurs.

Then, the initial Internet hysteria broke. The future of retail didn’t look so dim. Hybrid terms like “click and mortar” and “brick and click” came into being. Happily, we haven’t seen those terms in print lately. (Until now. Sorry about that.)

But this question on the future of physical retail space seems more relevant now. With total B2C online shopping sales in the U.S. expected to hit $304 billion this year and mobile sales estimated to reach $114 billion (a 60% increase over last year), it’s fair to question the future of physical retail.’s annual revenue is expected to break $100 billion this year. With free shipping, ultra-fast service, unparalleled product selection, a massive community of product reviewers, competitive pricing, and superior customer service, they are a force to be reckoned with.

A Shining Light in Retail’s Future

With the convenience of online shopping on and the rest of the big box retail family, do customer’s have a reason to enter your store?

For many retailers, the answer is no. Retailers with environments set up solely to convert the next transaction will likely continue to become less relevant to their customers.

Remember that humans need places to gather. Your customers want to feel like they belong. This need represents a tremendous opportunity for smart, customer-oriented retailers.

The Opportunity for Savvy Retailers

When you think of a 65-foot ferris wheel, simulation shooting galleries, roller ball bowling alleys, a 16-gallon saltwater fish tank, sports simulation games, and 24 flavors of homemade fudge, you probably don’t think of retail.

But if you’re a customer of Scheels, living within driving distance of one of their 24 locations, that’s your shopping experience.

With over 200,000 square feet of retail space, you aren’t just entering a big store, you’re entering the Scheels experience. And you’re not doing it alone: You’re taking your whole family. It’s a destination, a really big third place.

Customers travel from far distances with their family to go to Scheels. Sure, they can buy their family’s sporting goods and apparel online or at a local Sports Authority. But why just go shopping when you can see your kids light up on a ferris wheel or mesmerized looking at Nemo’s family in a massive fish tank?

The opportunity for retail may very well be in retail’s real estate. Retailers with physical space have an extraordinary opportunity to create spaces that offer meaningful experiences for their customers.

With thoughtfulness, creativity, and inspiration, you can cultivate a third place where your customers don’t just shop, but also gather and connect.

How are you making your customers feel at home when they enter your space?

Are you creating a meaningful experience for them?

Do your customers have a reason to return to your store again and again?

Your Business Has Superpowers

THE BIG IDEA: Every business has a unique set of strength-based values that shape the organization. Once uncovered, these “superpowers” help guide your vision, energize your culture, differentiate your business, and attract customers that love you.


It’s a rainy Wednesday morning. You enter your office an hour before everyone else.

As you close the door behind you, you hear a voice from the corner of the room.

“I’ve been waiting for you.” The voice sounds sincere but serious.

Startled, you turn and face a man in a dark overcoat with a brimmed hat overshadowing his eyes, sitting in your upholstered chair.

“Excuse me?” you reply as you keep your hand firmly on the door handle in case you need to dart out of the room.

“The High Council requires the assistance of your enterprise,” he replies.

“Look,” you say, “You have the wrong person. I have to get to work. Can you please leave my office?”

“Yes, you most certainly have work to do,” he says. “Your company has many challenges ahead. Your employees need your help. Your customers do too. But to help them, you must first discover your organization’s untapped powers.”

Wondering how the man got through security or if you’re dreaming, you play along. “What powers are you referring to?”

“Individuals, on their own, have tremendous evolutionary potential. This potential often lays dormant. Organizations are made up of individuals with this potential. When this potential is harnessed, magic happens.

“The organization finds greater harmony with individuals working together as teams. Its customers are uplifted, forming a greater whole with the organization. Your business, then, serves a higher purpose.

“But to make this come about, you must first activate your superpowers,” he finishes.

Intrigued, you ask, “How do we do that?”

What are Superpowers?

Your business might not have super strength, telekinesis, levitation, or invisibility, but it has unique strengths it can capitalize on.

Superpowers are like super-charged ideals.

Internally, superpowers align your organization to a set of core values.

They attract talented people who rally around a set of values because they find them meaningful. These superpowers also fuel your efforts toward a compelling vision.

Externally, superpowers make you stand out from other businesses. Your superpowers act as a homing beacon, attracting a unique breed of customers that are inspired by what you represent.

When you celebrate and embody specific higher values, you elevate both your employees and your customers out of a mundane world while inspiring them to live these higher values. In this way, your superpowers make a meaningful contribution to society.

And yes, substantial growth and increased profitability follows.

Superpowers in Action

Southwest Airlines uses the superpower of love to create a unique organization that inspires both employees and customers alike in a relational way.

Zappos uses the superpower of happiness to create a desirable place to work and a joyful experience for their customers.

The Life is good Company uses the superpower of optimism to celebrate a quality of the good life that helps lift its customers out of pervasive negativity.

Apple uses the superpower of creativity to inspire its organization to push the aesthetic limits of technology while providing a platform for self-expression for its customers.

Under Armour uses the superpower of empowered athleticism to support both their employees and their customers in living an active lifestyle.

Superpowers are Powerful

Organizations have more than one superpower. In fact, your business probably has anywhere from three to ten, each of varying strength.

Each superpower can be activated in different ways, both within your organization and in your marketing efforts.

Applied creatively, intentionally, and consistently your superpowers can elevate your organization to the level of greatness.

Your organization can be a powerful force for good in your community and the world at large. As a major enterprise, you can use your superpowers to change the world. While this may sound grandiose, the businesses listed above, and many others like them, are doing just that.

If you’re looking for a big idea to inspire change in your business, this might very well be it.

Discover your Superpowers

Assemble your all-star team.

Identify the core values that define your organization.

Determine your organization’s greatest strengths. What are you the best in the world at?

Next, consider why your best customers love you? What higher needs do you help them actualize? What tensions do you help them resolve? Why do your customers relate to you more than your competitors?

Be patient with this process. Open up your imagination. Commit to uncovering your company’s superpowers that will lead your organization to a compelling future.


P.S. Life is good CEO Bert Jacobs and Cult Branding Company founder BJ Bueno shared how superpowers can help grow any business in their keynote address at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show. Click here to watch this popular talk.