[Podcast] Brand Positioning with Ulli Appelbaum

[Podcast] Brand Positioning with Ulli Appelbaum

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How can brands position themselves for success in today’s marketplace?

That is the question.

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And we have the answer!

In this episode, we discuss proven brand positioning methodologies that actually work, complete with examples and practical steps you can use to develop your own brand positioning that are truly differentiating, distinctive, and highly relevant.

To guide us, we have Ulli Appelbaum, the author of the new book, The Brand Positioning Workbook: A simple how-to guide to more compelling brand positioning, faster.

Ulli is an award-winning marketing and brand strategy consultant with more than 20 years of experience creating brand strategies and building brands, holding senior strategy roles at some of the largest advertising agencies in the world including BBDO, Leo Burnett, and SapientNitro.

If you want to be able to create attractive brands that succeed in today’s marketplace, this is the episode for you!

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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding. Today, we have Ulli Appelbaum with us, and he is an award-winning marketing and brand strategy consultant. He’s had more than 20 years’ experience creating brand strategies and building brands.

He’s held senior roles at some of the largest ad agencies in the world, including BBDO, Leo Burnett and SapientNitro. In 2014, he founded the boutique Brand Strategy Shop, first the trousers, then the shoes. I want to understand what that’s all about.

Ulli’s also released a book titled The Brand Positioning Workbook, a simple how-to guide to more compelling brand positionings faster, which is exactly what we’ll be discussing today. So he’s also a blogger for top tier publications, a contributor to various trade publications and a regular podcast interviewee and speaker and much more. So listen in as you’re going to be learning much more about brand positionings.

So welcome to the show.

Thanks so much for having me and thank you for not mispronounciating my name. Appreciate that.

Ah, I thought I butchered it.

We cannot promise that it will continue in such a successful vein, but we’ll do our best.

The intro did it. That’s enough for me. You can butcher it completely as you want.

Now I’m fine with that.

Awesome. Well, we’re here to talk about brand positioning and you have a book on it. So like, how did you come around to write in a book just on that topic?

Well, I shouldn’t say just, it’s a pretty huge topic.

Well, it’s a long labor of love. To be honest, the idea behind the book, I literally had 20 plus years ago. And I literally had it, I was working at the time at, I think, Leo Burnett in Europe, in Eastern Europe and in Germany.

And I just realized this, understood that these patterns, when you look at case studies and brand around different categories or different geography, where one brand would, for example, use country of origin platform to differentiate itself in the market, or another one would use a specific ingredient. And so I realized this 20 or so years ago and started to collect case studies and your life takes over, you have children, you move job, you move continent, you do all these kinds of things you’re supposed to do as an adult. And then pre-pandemic, the idea came back to me, and I just thought, my God, the idea is still as good as I always thought it is.

Now it’s time to write the book. So I finally decided to put it on paper. I’ve used it as a consulting tool and a workshop tool for literally 10, 15 years.

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I’ve never really captured it in one document, which I did now with this book. So that’s really how it came about based on, I call it a marketing insight. You know, these patterns you see across categories, across brands, asking yourself, how many of these patterns can I identify?

And what can I do with those patterns when I have identified them? And that’s really what the foundation of this book is basically.

Brilliant. So it goes into the nitty gritty of how to actually do it, you know, methodologies and exercises. Is that right?

Correct. That’s really right. And one of the biggest compliment I get from the book is really the, it’s a no-**** book.

So it’s not Ulli’s philosophy on branding 5.0, you know, or Ulli’s philosophy on what brand should be doing. It’s really a summary of this methodology and 20 years of experience running positioning processes, positioning workshop condensed into a hundred plus pages. So it’s a great sort of like, that’s why I call it a handbook or workbook, not just a book.

It’s really meant to be worked with, crossed, marked. And there are many ideas in there, many you can discard as a practitioner, but I’m sure I’m almost to the point where I can guarantee that you’ll find one or two that’s going to help you be smarter in your thinking if you read it and if you apply it.

So Ulli, can I ask a really simple, but basic question early on? So the workbook about brand positioning, can you define for our audience what we’re talking about? What’s your definition of a brand’s position?

Yeah, great question. And you know how it is, right? The more experience you get something, the simpler your definition becomes, right?

And I remember a few years ago seeing on slideshare, sort of like a whole presentation of 40 definitions of what a brand position or what brand positioning is and what a brand is. And you go crazy when you have that, right? So my definition is very simply, it’s the sum of the associations you want to create with your offering amongst your core, call it more valuable consumer segment or desired consumer segment.

So it’s really about identifying the two or three associations that you want to create with your offering. That will make you relevant, that will make you stand out, that will create a value perception that people will be willing to pay a premium for your brand. It’s really at the end of the day, two or three, maximum four association that you need to define and then build through your marketing plan and marketing program.

So, that’s really the simplest form I found to describe it. And what I like about it, it makes it operational because you can ask any conversation with any, any entrepreneur can ask this conversation or any designer can ask this conversation when you start a relationship with a client is, what is your brand currently associated with? Does it help you?

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Is it differentiating? Does it attract the type of consumer you want? Followed by what are the association you want to be associated with in the future in the next three to five years.

And once you’ve defined those, then you can determine is my design bringing this to life? Is my product lineup bringing that to life? Is my price premium bringing that to life?

Am I in the right distribution channel to help create these associations? Or am I doing a whole bunch of, you know, marketing tactics and activities that, that dilute basically what I’m trying to achieve, meaning creating these association. So that’s really, I like it because it’s simple.

It means I can remember it, which is fairly straightforward, but it’s also very actionable, which is another aspect I like about it as well.

So a key word I heard there was relevance, right? Making it relevant for the consumer. So in your book, you mentioned territories.

You have 26 different territories. So I don’t think we’re going to get into all of them, but let’s make a little game out of it. Well, not a game, a scenario.

Let’s say Ulli, I want to find the right position in for my brand. How do you actually, where do you start? For our listeners, if they’re all going to do this, how can they put in to play?

How can they find a good position?

Yeah, so the short answer is by going through as many as them as you possibly can and identifying the one that is true to your brand and resonating relevant to consumers. The reality is it sounds like they’re 26. It sounds like a lot, but they’re organized, right?

And they’re organized in a way that you guys and I have been organizing these elements for a long time. It’s like, you know, you have a frame of reference, a context, what is the context in which you put your brand? Is it a usage occasion?

Is it a competitive environment? Is the frame of reference culture? So that’s simply like the context, the stage you set for your brand.

And then the second set of sources of association is, you know, about how do I want to connect with my consumer? Is it through a benefit? Is it through a reward?

Is my benefit maybe experiential? Do I want to tap into a set of shared values, which are all the sort of like proven ways to position a brand? And the third one is simply, call it the reason to believe, you know, it’s like, what is it, what is specific and unique about your offering that allows you to make that benefit claim in that specific context?

So when you understand that these three groups, and you guys are familiar with this group, right? Frame of reference, benefit and reason to believe, those are the basic elements of a positioning statement. And that’s what I like about this methodology as well.

I don’t reinvent the wheel. I don’t have a silver magic bullet. It’s really tried and true.

What the methodology does, it simply breaks down your frame of reference. You have like 10 sources of association. Think about them, go through them.

Think about them in the context of your brand and your competitor and see if something interesting comes up. Same with the benefit, right? You see all your competitors are using very emotional, lofty, sort of like highly aspirational benefit.

Maybe it’s time in the category for a brand to go towards a hard-hitting, functional, tangible benefit or vice versa. So to go against the stream. And I just give you the menu, right?

The options of what’s at your disposal to define that. And the third element is simply, you know, help you, the practitioner, look at your brand, its origin, who endorses it, what experts say, all these kinds of things, just to try to find something interesting to say about it. So really going through it.

And it’s not like a painful exercise. It’s often a fun workshop type exercise, where my belief is the more crazy you go, the better the ideas that come out, you know? So it’s a playful thing.

It’s a fun thing that then leads to a variety of options. And then you can decide, okay, out of these options, which ones are really different from what’s in the category relevant to what we know consumers are looking for, something we are comfortable embracing and endorsing, as a point of view of positioning, et cetera, et cetera. So it’s very rigorous, but it’s also very fun and very playful way to go through.

Alcohol always helps, but not during the day, not with a highly paying client, but it leads to great results as well.

On JUST Branding, alcohol is always allowed. So I’ve got a serious question for you, Ulli. Like, have you, well, here’s the thing.

So what if you go through all the contexts and you think, and you look at all the options and you come out and you think, do you know what? If we’re looking at this situation seriously and honestly, we’re not different. Like we seem to be very much the same as a number of other brands in our category, in our space.

Like what should a brand do in that situation?

That’s a great question too. And that’s a good reminder. Positioning is basically a reflection of a truth about the brand, right?

So you’re not creating anything that doesn’t exist. It needs to come from the brand itself or from the product or from the company or from the origin of the company. If there isn’t anything there, frankly, the best approach is to reevaluate your product, go back to your service, check what is the offering you have and can you make that offering more distinctive, more relevant, more interesting?

And I mean, there are exercises you can do as well in terms of like new product innovation, but a great positioning needs to be rooted in a truth of the brand. If there isn’t any truth, then maybe you don’t have a brand, then you have a utility or just a me-too product out there. And then I would try as a consultant to run from that, or first to recommend to change the product because you cannot **** your way to success.

If it’s not deep in the brand, you cannot **** consumers with this type of fluff. What this methodology allows you to do, though, is really to cover way more, to turn around way more stones, to leave more on stones unturned than any other methodology I’ve seen out there. So if after using these 26 territories, you still don’t have a positioning problem, then you have a product problem very clearly.

I love that, Ulli. I think everything you’ve said there, I’m sure Jacob would agree, we would back up 100%. And I think 26, I mean, that’s probably the most comprehensive we’ve faced, right, Jacob?

We’ve interviewed a number of minds across the globe who are top minds in brand. And I don’t think anyone has come up with 26 potential options to help differentiate. But here’s the thing.

If you go through all that and you still face it, I love what you said. Look, you’ve got a product problem, which for me kind of makes brand quite an interesting subject, because what it means is in a business, and I don’t know what your thoughts are on this, and I perhaps coach this in a question for you. Say we do go through all the 26, and then in the unlikely event that we find that we can’t really differentiate ourselves amongst the competition or amongst the category, then it is a product issue in your words.

Then I guess it’s kind of a cross-functional issue then, isn’t it? Because is it just product or is it wider? Is it product plus marketing plus a number of functions in the business?

How do you cope with that kind of situation? Because I’m facing, in my work, I don’t know what you think, Jacob, a number of issues where you come across the same issue where truth be told, we’re not that different. So what does that mean?

And you’ve said, we’ve got to innovate, and I agree with that. But how do you find businesses take that if you ever get in that situation? And have you got any advice to anyone in that situation?

Well, that’s a big question. I hope you guys have time.

We do, we do, go, go.

Two thoughts to that. And the first one is, yes. And when I say product, I don’t just mean the product discipline or the product development group.

I mean, literally the reason for being for the organization, if it’s to launch, I don’t know, candy, and no one wants the candy because they all think it’s the same. What you do, the type of product you do, needs to be restarted from sourcing, from distribution, from innovation, product composition and texture. You got to start from scratch.

But you can start also with the consumer, right? So a couple of years ago, I worked on with the state lottery here in the United States. And I don’t know if you guys know that each state has a specific state lottery that doesn’t compete with the state lotteries in the other states.

And they do both like stretch games and then draw games like a power ball and all these kind of win 100 billion dollar type games. And they approached me because when you think about their products, their products is basically just six numbers, right? So you can choose from six numbers.

That’s the draw games. And from the scratch games, you basically get a little sheet of little fields that you can scratch. And the variables you have there is the number of fields you can scratch and the visuals in the fields you can scratch.

So if you show a bunny or a red sports car or whatever it is, and maybe the amount you can win. So the variable that allow you to provide innovations are very limited. And they came to me and said, okay, can you help us identify the white spaces?

And the reason we, the way we did it was through a segmentation study that really reframed the way this organization was looking at their business. So there, you know, we showed them that people, yes, they play lottery and lottery by lottery product, but we showed them that beyond that is the satisfaction of very specific needs. That if you reframe your category around these needs, can lead you to new product ideas.

And what I mean with that, for example, is, you know, the scratch game, we define them, it’s the business of managing the moment. So you buy a ticket, you’re at the gas station, and then you keep it in your pocket. And then, you know, you’re on a road trip and want to keep the whole family entertained, or you’re waiting at the dentist, and you’re bored, and, you know, or at the DMV, you use the scratch games to keep yourself busy, you know, whereas sort of like the draw games, the big powerball games, that is sort of like in the business of mood management.

And what I mean with that is, you know, I feel down, I got three bills. It’s like, I don’t know, January 15, I got three bills, I should say food, I don’t know, I’m going to make it to the end of the month. I’m depressed, I need to lift myself up.

I’m going to buy a ticket to make me hope, you know, maybe next week I’m going to win $100 million, and all my problems are going to be solved. Or, you know, Jacob, you’re walking around your city, and you see like a 7 here, bus number 7 comes by me, you know, ooh, here’s a 7-Eleven, and ooh, my favorite product is $7 today. And you think like, oh, my god, my lucky number 7 is out today.

It puts me on a high. I think it’s my, I have a lucky streak. I’m going to buy a ticket to maintain that.

So reframing the category is a way to allow you to identify needs and need states that are relevant for your consumers that can then help guide your product development and your product innovation. So I’m sorry, there was a very long answer to your question, is basically understand the unfulfilled consumer needs in the market out there and try to develop a product that delivers against these needs, because then your chances to succeed and your chances to position your brand better are significantly increased. Now, the one thing I wanted to say, though, as a caveat, there is one example I know, which is a case study I came across, is the case of Energizer battery in the US.

Are you all familiar with Energizer or Duracell? It’s a global competitor. And the story has it that Energizer at the time went to their agency, I think that was a Goodby Silverstein at the time, and told them, you know, our competitor, Duracell, owns longevity of battery.

You need to help us find a different benefit that is gonna be equally or more relevant to consumers than longevity. The agency did its own research, talked to consumers, yada, yada, yada, did all that stuff. And they basically came back and said, sorry, dear client, but no one cares about anything but longevity in the battery category.

And that makes sense, right? You want your products that run on batteries to last as long as possible. So their solution was to out-execute Duracell around the benefit of long-lasting.

So basically the core association became, long-lasting batteries and they out-executed them by creating the Energizer Bunny. So all of a sudden here is a creative device which became a brand association as well, Irrational, right? So you see a little bunny just going through the screen with his little tambourine, really taking away from Duracell the association of longevity and clearly connecting it back to Energizer based on this little brand asset, call it this way.

So this is for me one of the few examples where not a generic, a benefit claim by a competitor was claimed by someone else and owned by someone else. But I’m reluctant to share that because you don’t want to fall into the trap where you say, we couldn’t really find anything distinctive about our brand and how to position it. We’re going to delegate the responsibility to the creative team.

Good luck trying to differentiate our brand because we really couldn’t find anything. And that is lame and that is lazy. So we got to use that example, don’t walk around saying, yeah, but Energizer did it.

So you can do it too, right? Find a creative solution that really saves our business. Yeah, that’s not how it works.

So if I was to say to you then, what would have worked? What would in your experience, what’s a better approach? Would it, I guess it would be going back to the product, get back to the process, figuring out what’s valuable to the customer, like you said originally, and reinventing the proposition genuinely and authentically around something that’s really impactful and meaningful.

Would you agree with that?

That would definitely be a way to do it. You build basically an offering based on a need that you see in the market that is unfulfilled, and you design your product or create it, whatever you want to call it. You build your product around that specific need.

Absolutely. That’s definitely a way to go. The other way to go, and that comes back to one of these 26 territories, is to shift your competitive space and find a substitute category in which your product looks better than its original category.

And what I mean with that is, for example, imagine you have a fruit drink, right? A typical example is when you have a fruit juice, but you only have like 5% fruit content, right? And all your competitors out there have 80% fruit content.

They’re fully organic from pristine fields, sunny hills, et cetera, et cetera. And you just have like, I don’t know, let’s say 5% or 10% fruit juice. It’s kind of hard to compete in terms of, we are the better juice than all these normal ones.

But you can look maybe for another beverage category and try to see, can I compete against those? So for example, you could look at the soda category and you could say, okay, they have 90% sugar. I only have, you know, 40% sugar, but I have 20% or 10% fruits.

Compared to a soda, I am a more attractive alternative or healthier alternative than compared to an organic fruit juice. So by shifting the category or looking for substitute categories, you can try to see, does this shed a better light on my offering than my core competitors out there? So that might be a way to do it as well, but the proper way to do it would be go and develop a product that satisfy customer need.


Well, thank you for sharing all those examples. I think we’re dancing around the classic three Cs here with the company and the category and the consumer.


Yeah, so finding that sweet spot in the middle, I always think about that. So there’s always those three areas that you can look to figure out what is a position that we could hold.

That is absolutely true. And that is, and you guys have seen the book, none of these 26 territories is magic or coming from space or based on the latest research on neuropsychology or anything like that. Those are tried and true method that I’m sure as you go through them, every single one of them will be familiar to you and you probably will have used them in your own work during your career at one stage or another.

What’s unique about it is it packages them in one offering and allows you to go through all of them at once basically.

Yeah, I love how it’s a workbook and you’ve specifically said that it’s a workbook with the title and it’s very actionable. You can take it away because you can often get these big brand bibles that like there’s so many elements of brand and it can be overwhelming, but you know, you narrow it in on what you could consider as the most important part of a brand is position because that’s gonna dictate everything else to come. So it’s great that you have a book on that now.

Well, thank you. The funny thing is when I decided to write the book, I first checked on Amazon, of course, and looked at the, what are the books I admire and how many books are there about brand positioning? And I came up when I wrote it with end of last year, mid of last year, Amazon listed 262 books about brand positioning.

So to scratch your head, right? And you’re like, okay, do I really need to write 263? Do I have something to offer that these 262 others haven’t done?

But the reality is, and I don’t want these other authors, because it’s a labor of love to write a book. But a lot of them is just a rehash or reinterpretation of existing knowledge or applying brand positioning to personal brand building. So it’s really just a lot of rehashing as opposed to really providing a methodology, a guide, a how-to guide on that really can guide everyone step by step through the whole process.

So I decided, you know what? I’m gonna write it anyway and see if I can find this niche. And that’s why I also call it the workbook to differentiate myself a little bit.

We just talked about this. It’s not a book about brand positioning number 263. It’s a workbook on brand positioning number one.

So I’m creating my own subcategory here.

We love it. We love it. So I was gonna ask for like, whether or not you could give our listeners a bit of a flavor.

So let’s say, for example, we buy the book. We’re looking at our business or a client that we’re working with. What can we expect to go through in the workbook?

Can you give us any kind of, I know there’s 26, as you mentioned, 26 options, but give us a flavor of what that starts to look like and time and process and that kind of stuff so that we can get a bit of a feel for the workbook itself.

Absolutely, so let’s say you take the book and read it or have read it over the weekend and have a conversation with your client on Monday. What this book is gonna give you, and the assignment is about positioning, finding sort of like what is unique about my brand? How do I need to position it?

How do I make it stand out? What this book is gonna give you from the get-go is way more options at your disposal than you would be able to come up with on your own. And I’m sure you have brilliant strategies, so I’m really not against your qualification and your skills.

The point is simply, my experience is most people will be able to come up with six, seven, eight ways to position a brand based on their experience, based on their training, based on their own success stories, but no one will be able to come up with 26 of those. So the potential pool of options you can choose from will be significantly increased from the get-go. Now, if you’re the type of person, or if a reader is a type of person who say, oh, my method works, you know, I always do cultural branding or I always do functional product benefits, and that’s the one I focus on.

So if you like narrow your mindset, the book is not gonna help you because it really allows you to explore a very wide and diverse range of options, simply by answering each territory in this book, each source of brand association has a couple of question that stimulate your thinking. And you’ll be able to come up with way more potential options for your client than without. And because you have, I don’t know, 60 option as opposed to only 15 options, the likelihood that one of these 60, it’s gonna be novel, innovative, different from what’s being done in the category is significantly higher than without it.

So from the get-go, it’s gonna give you an option. It can also help you, and a couple of people reached out to me to mention that to me. It’s like, you have a big presentation tomorrow.

The client wants to know, how would you work? How can you position the brand? You are stuck, you’re mentally stuck, you’re sitting in front of your sheet of paper or you have absorbed too much information, don’t know what to do with it.

You feel like you have a block. What this book allows you to do by going through these territories, it unlocks it basically. It gives you, hey, here’s another way to think about it.

Doesn’t work for you. Here’s another way to think about it. Doesn’t work for you either.

How about number 15, a way to think about it. So I’ve yet to find someone who read the book and they said, you know what? I still had no idea coming out of reading that book on what to do for my brand.

So what it does, it really accelerates and guides your, I call it, if you want to be technical, your hypothesis-generating process, and that’s what you do when you position a brand. You look at the options at your disposal and what this thing does, it gives you, I don’t know, five, six, seven times more option than you would without the book. And I’ve used this literally in the course of 24-hour turnaround.

And from a discussion point of view with your client, it’s very easy to show them, hey, here are seven ways to position your brand. They’re all relevant. They’re all interesting.

Shouldn’t we do some research to try to understand which one is the most relevant? And it’s not just fluff ideas, it’s very solid, robust ideas. And I’m using this in five-month consulting projects that include everything from qualitative research, quantitative research, workshops, stakeholder interviews, etc.

And that really sort of like encompasses a much more, a much broader scope. So it’s really… And people have used it to, you know, to put their copy mug on the desk, to avoid staking the desk.

So it’s really a functional, multifunctional tool.

If anyone does that, by the way, you should be shot because you’re clearly more valuable than that. No, it sounds amazing. And I think for me, as a strategist, you know, I’ve literally put an order in to get this book because it’s…

you need those prompts for you as a strategist. You need those prompts to kind of excite your mind, to kind of prompt you to explore new areas. And 26 is huge.

But like, the way you’ve described it to me is kind of like, you know, it’s invaluable in that sense. A workbook that will help you work through those 26 areas.

Like a cheat sheet for positioning.

Yeah, a cheat sheet. But also, everything you’ve said to me is grounded in reality, you know? And as you rightly said, you know, any one of these, and I’m sure you’d agree with this, feel free to disagree if you don’t.

But you’d want to kind of check it, wouldn’t you? By looking at customer insights, by discussing things with customers in the market, to make sure that the positioning is going to be effective going forwards. But you still have to have the idea, that spark in the first place.

You just have to align and rally the team, the leadership team behind it, into this potential new future. So, you know, we need those sorts of things. So, you know, thank you for producing the book.

No, thank you for having me and having me talk about it. I appreciate it.

One final thing before we go. So, what would be the key thing that you want readers to take away from the book?

What I want them to take away is that positioning is not rocket science. I mean, it’s a craft, right? And just like any craft, the more you practice, the better you get at.

But like any craft, you need a tool. You know, you need to learn how a tool works. You need to learn how, you know, if you’re painting, you need to know how paint, you know, sticks on certain canvases and stuff.

So you need to learn these basics. And so it’s really not rocket science. Everyone can be a great strategist in terms of able to develop brand positioning.

And one thing that completely drives me nuts, which is one of the reasons I wrote this book, is the superficiality of the current thinking in the industry, right? We’re always running after the newest shining object. Now, I swear to God, if someone comes to me and asks, how does positioning change in the metaverse?

I want to slap that person, you know, I’m going to get physical. But you see this…

Something right at the end. Keep going. Why would you say such a thing?

Nothing against the metaverse. But the point is, I don’t want to… I think the best strategies or the best positionings are not the one that follow a belief system.

So if you start a project thinking like, you know, I’m selling chemical fertilizer that’s going to, you know, be transferred into food product. But I would like to develop a brand purpose for my chemical. No, you don’t, you know.

Or everyone wants to be relevant culturally. So cultural branding is a big trend we’ve seen over the last 10 years. And nothing wrong.

Brand purpose, cultural branding have their place with the right brand in the right context for the right consumer segment. But going from the get-go and saying, your solution is going to be a purpose. But my chemicals, I don’t want to talk about them because they’re illegal in half the states.

It’s the wrong approach. What I want to show you is there is way more richness in positioning a brand beyond these sort of superficial mainstream beliefs. And that’s for me the key to success, is not have I positioned a brand successfully around the purpose or did I do some great cultural branding?

No. Did I carve out a unique position that is relevant to its consumer segment that gets my client’s brand to grow? That is my benchmark.

So really there is a richness in the book that allows you to go beyond the superficial thinking. Now, if you guys, sorry, I listened to some of your podcasts, but I didn’t see the section that said we only do brand purpose. If that’s sort of like your motto, the book might not be that much for you.

If that’s your mindset, the book might not be for you because it gives you way more options to position a brand in a relevant fashion. So that’s my little crusade against the superficial thinking in the industry. I stopped my rent now.

I stopped my rent.


And we appreciate it. I think Jacob and I would both agree that you’ve got to go beyond the superficial. You’ve got to go beyond the kind of…


The surface, yeah. And I agree with that. And I think for me, what you’ve said, and rightly highlighted throughout all this conversation, is it’s got to be authentic, right?

It’s got to be relevant. It’s got to be actual. And I mean, final question for me, and I know Jacob’s probably got a couple of follow-ups, but what do you do in your consulting work when you face leadership teams that are superficial, that are just kind of like trying to green wash something or purpose wash something?

How do you personally deal with that? You know, particularly after maybe you’ve taken a gig or accepted a project. How do you deal with that?

It’s just a genuine question for me.

Well, you lose a lot of hair for one. That’s number one.

Just for the listeners who’s not on video, he just took his cap off and we’ve just realized there is no hair. But there we are. Carry on.

It’s a great question, though, and that’s a whole other part, but that taps more for me in the consulting gigs on how to manage a consulting assignment. And in my case, I always start them with stakeholder interviews, understand what are the internals, what are the real ambitions of the company? Are there a couple of people that maybe do not want the change or do not want to change in positioning or something like that?

But just try to get a sense for the culture and power dynamic and decision-making dynamic within the organization. And then when you have that, you determine, who am I going to come up these ideas with? So whether it’s an online workshop or an in-person workshop, who do I want to invite in those meetings?

And ironically, it’s not always the people, all the people who agree with you. You want the people who disagree with you, the people who resist the idea or the change to be part of this process, to get them involved as well. And then the third is, and the book is full of that as well, is just a bunch of creativity techniques and exercises to get people to get out of their shell, basically, to get them to think differently.

So one example I regularly use is, I once had to moderate a two-day workshop in Germany with a group of 12 German engineers. And trust me, German engineers, my dad is a German engineer, it’s one of the most rigorous and rigid person out there. So there is one way to do things, or there is an engineering and scientific way to do things, and nothing else.

So one of the exercises I typically do, or like to do sometimes, is a negative brainstorm. So instead of thinking about the benefit of your product, think about all the reasons why consumers should hate your product. And then take that knowledge and turn that into a positive, you know.

And so I asked those guys, so what’s wrong with your product? And anonymously, the response was, our product is perfect. It was CT scanners, it was like medical CT scanners.

And it was, the only thing that is imperfect about our product is the patient. Because when you put the patient in the scanner, you know, and he goes in the scanner, and then you have the rotation, the imagery taking place, these silly patients, because they’re nervous, tend to move. That is the only problem with our product, a patient moving.

So here, a very ungrained mindset of engineers trying to, you know, that you’re trying to get to think creatively. So all you can do is change the type of exercise, tell dirty jokes, get them to think differently and individually, to come up with ideas to try to get them out of their own sort of like mindset and patterns and stuff like that. And this was a two-day workshop.

I think I wrote about it in the book too. After day one, I thought I was fired. You know, I was packing my bags already and thinking like, when is the earliest flight to the US tomorrow morning?

I don’t need to show up at the second day. But then by reorganizing the type of exercises I did with those guys, and finally, the beginning of the workshop was really, please don’t talk to each other. I don’t want you to think for yourself, write things down, and then hand over your ideas to your neighbors, but don’t talk to them.

I don’t want to hear the patient is the only problem in my products type conversation. And that then led to, I don’t know, again, a long-winded answer to your question, understanding the politics and the situation in the organization, bringing in the right people to the workshop, and then having this right type of exercises to get people to really think outside of their own skin. And if you see that after the first day of the workshop, this doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to change your exercises and change your approach to generating ideas to get the results the second day around.

So I could have summarized it in this 30-second, started by summarizing it in 30 seconds.

It gave us context. You’re totally right, right? The more you know, the more tools you have in your backpack and you can get them out when you need.

You don’t know what you don’t know. So once you have those 26 methodologies or territories, you’re aware of them, you can use them when the time arises, or you have a different thinking technique or a different way of asking questions, that mindset. I think they’re all brilliant tools we can use as strategists.

All right, so we will wrap this up. But before we do, please let us know where we can get your book, where we can connect with you, any other last things you may want to share.

Yeah, so appreciate that. So the book can be literally, that’s the beauty of Amazon worldwide, can literally be bought where you can access Amazon. And I think in more and more countries, where they are really blown away by is you can literally print the book.

So if you’re in India, you can print a paperback version or a hard copy version, whether you’re in Germany.

That would be great in Australia, because the hostage to Australia is ridiculous.

I think you might be able to already in Australia. I’m not 100% sure, but you might be. In the worst case, you get the Kindle version all over the world.

And the best way to reach out to me is on LinkedIn, Ulli Appelbaum, just send me a connection invite. Don’t send me a sales pitch on the new magical CRM tool that you have developed. That’s going to get me 20 clients a month.

Those I tend not to respond to, but very open to always respond to connection requests. And worst case, you can also find me on my website, which is firstetrousers.com. So first minus the minus…

We didn’t get into that. I really want to know where this name came from.

Okay, we can’t close. We cannot close without an understanding of where minus the trousers, minus goes or whatever it is. Tell us about that.

Well, it’s really simple. So I brainstormed with a friend of mine. He was a creative director on names when I decided to start my business.

And I didn’t want to call it Appelbaum Consulting or, you know, Stella Brand Consulting or something like that. So the more we drunk, the more crazy our ideas became. And eventually we came up with names like firstetrousers, then the shoes.

And so the next morning I woke up with a headache and looked at my list and this name stuck with me. And the name is actually also 20 plus years old because before I moved to the US, I had this company entity already. And it always resonated with me.

And the weird thing is a few years later I understood why, because I’m a strategy, so I believe strategy comes first. But I also believe that strategy is a creative ideation process or creative solving problem or process. So creativity is embedded in the strategic process.

So first the trousers, then the shoes was a way to express that, to say, you know, we do strategy, but we do it creatively. And then the last thing is I’m a contrarian. And at the time when I was coming up with names for the company, the rule was like, keep it really short.

It needs to be a very, very short name. And I was like, I want to have a long name. It’s going to be first the trousers, then the shoes.

And, you know, people, as long as it creates an image in your brain, and as long as you remember something like first the, you know, shorts, then the flip-flops, or, you know, first whatever, it works with me.

That’s the Australian version. If you opened up down here.

That’s right.

Just flip-flops. So I like that. Nice.

Thank you. It’s very, very memorable. And, you know, it poked out interest.

So here we are talking about it. So it’s definitely doing its job.

And yeah, I used to follow up, you know, reach out to potential clients and follow up and say, yes, I had this Ulli Appelbaum. I sent you something, you know, a couple of days ago. He’s like, no, who?

What? No, I don’t remember. He was like, yes, first the trousers.

Oh, the trousers. Yes. No, I do remember what you said.

Yes. So very memorable, much more than my weird name. So it worked well for me.

Cool word, isn’t it? Trousers. It just is so weird.

It’s such an unusual word. Love it.

That’s when two Germans ideate English names. That’s when you come up with trousers as opposed to pants or whatever else you may come up with. I love it.

I love it. Well, thanks so much. And listen, thanks so much for coming on, sharing your wisdom, sharing the experience that you’ve got and, you know, an overview of the 26 territories.

Folks, listen up, right? You don’t want to position a brand. You want to get this book.

It’s going to help you to understand, you know, the options available to you. You know, I don’t think, as I said before, I don’t think Jacob and I, we interview guests across the world, the best minds in the business. I don’t think anyone’s kind of articulated 26 before.

So, you know, get this book, explore it, think about it and use it in your work. So I want to say thank you to you, Ulli, for coming on, for exploring this with us and for the banter. So I really appreciate it.

Thank you.

No, thanks for having me. I had a great time talking to you guys. Really appreciate that.

And you butch my name at the end, but that’s OK. I was expecting that. So, oh, my goodness.

I’m like the worst at fancy journey.

So we nearly got through it, Matt, nearly.

I nearly got it right.

I had one more minute to go.

So correct me, Jacob.

Just teasing. Ulli, Ulli.

Ulli, come on. Sorry about that. Ulli, thank you.

No, thank you guys. Really enjoyed talking to you. Thank you so much.

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