New ways for food court brands to thrive in malls – QSR Magazine
09/12/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New ways for food court brands to thrive in malls – QSR Magazine

Originally published by QSR Magazine

For many of us, the food court was the first place to go in a mall. Right in the middle of bustling big box anchors and niche stores filled with everything from menswear to kids’ toys, the cool kids gathered in an epicenter of quick-service restaurants to see and be seen.

Today, those fast times at Ridgemont High have slowed to a crawl as the built-in foot traffic dwindles. The once-thriving paradise of food and friends struggles to find an identity as quick-serves come and go, finding it nearly impossible to survive in this space. As a result, many brands have headed for the nearest exit.

But despite the grimness of the situation, some quick-service restaurants aren’t just surviving; They’re thriving thanks to a delicate balance of operations, product offering, and marketing that can uplift a failing quick-serve and bring some success back to mall food courts.

Finding the right mix requires a challenge to industry norms and perceived truths. For instance, let’s look at a food court brand’s most prevalent form of marketing: engaging and attracting mall employees and people already wandering near their brands. Industry vets would tell you that focusing on anyone else is a waste of time and money.

In years past, they’d be right. However, there have been pivotal shifts in our culture that warrant rethinking this perceived truth. Marketing with the intent of drawing in non-mall diners isn’t going to be effective, but the standard strategy of waiting for them to come to you simply isn’t effective anymore. Food court patrons spend time outside of the mall, yet most brands do nothing to engage with them beyond the four walls. Attracting these guests for an additional visit, and staying top of mind for next time would do wonders to increase traffic.

Of course, that doesn’t mean going back to old guard media standards like direct mail and couponing. Instead, quick-service restaurants need to commit to new marketing channels that align with consumer behaviors. Take the brand to their world and establish relevance in the conversation.

Here are three avenues to take the reigns on realizing success in the highly competitive mall food court space:

Socialize like a human. Too many brands take to social media with a traditional mentality. They smatter their pages with self-serving “buy now” and “look at this food” posts that result in little to no real interaction with followers. To put it bluntly, brands need to ask themselves a tough question, “If my social personality was a person, would anyone be friends with me?” In most cases, the answer would be “no”.

Quick-service brands have to start acting like a human on social to get traction. Interact and engage with people’s posts. Offer something fun and unexpected to the narrative. Post things for the fans, not just the brand. And, yes, once you’ve built a rapport, you can post a deal or promo. At least now, it will be coming from a friend.

Build loyalty through rewards. Gone are the days of punch cards, but the idea is still a good one in theory. People will always like being rewarded for their loyalty, but it has to come in a different form now. Bring loyalty and rewards to them where they spend the most time: on their phones.

White label apps put brands in consumers hands while allowing them to perform multiple functions. Consumers aren’t just looking for a new way to order, which is what most brands push from the start. That should come later down the consumer journey. What they want is a way to collect points and engage with brands on a deeper level; a level frequent buyers deserve.

Bring the food to them. Once again, tuning into consumer behaviors reveals new opportunities for quick-service brands. Today’s consumers do spend time in malls, but they also spend time at home playing video games and binge-watching content. During these lengthy sessions, hunger inevitably sets in. Pizza has been the mainstay choice in these scenarios, but with the adoption and proliferation of third-party delivery, pizza isn’t the only game in town.

Brands inside the food court are positioned well to leverage the power of third party delivery. With some simple number crunching and product mix evaluation, a quick-service restaurant can open a new line of revenue that extends the brand outside the mall. By utilizing new technology that aligns with consumer behaviors, mall food court quick-service restaurant can take a more proactive approach to thriving and succeeding in this space.

Even in food courts, consumers want more from brands. By looking outside the mall, and establishing stronger connections with the current market through new channels, these brands don’t have to swallow the grim outlook that’s being fed to them. There’s a way to win. The brands that embrace these new truths will be the ones that survive and maybe even usher in a prosperous new era for the mall food court.


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The most expensive thing you’ll ever say: restaurant tagline do’s and don’ts
26/11/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy , Restaurant Startup Strategy # , , , , , , , ,

The most expensive thing you’ll ever say: restaurant tagline do’s and don’ts

At a recent lunch with the Vigor team, someone brought up a chain restaurant slogan that they just couldn’t stand. It had a major cringe-factor, and didn’t communicate much. After throwing around some equally cringe-inducing variations on the tagline, we felt the need to do something constructive.

So we thought some restaurant tagline do’s and don’ts would be a good place to start. These aren’t really rules, mind you, since no piece of creative can really be evaluated in isolation. Additionally, some of these are no longer in use. But we hope they’ll get your gears turning and shed light not only on tagline approaches, but on brand strategy in general. Ok, let’s go.

Do #1: Share Your Purpose

A restaurant is so much more than what’s on the plate. At Vigor, we define a “passionate purpose” for each brand, and this purpose ties together every part of the brand, internal and external. Sharing this purpose in a compelling way is a great way to introduce someone to your brand.


Food with Integrity. —Chipotle

Puts a spotlight on the ethics of food sourcing—then jumps in that spotlight.

America Runs On Dunkin’ —Dunkin’ Donuts

Paints a picture of hardworking, industrious America, rolling along on tasty donuts.

You Deserve a Break Today —McDonald’s

Your boss and spouse may disagree, but thank heavens McDonald’s will give you a break.

Do #2: Show Your Personality

Another strong approach is to introduce the consumer to your brand personality. This can make an immediate connection on a personal level and set the stage for the rest of the experience.


Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined —Hooters

Subverts expectation, makes no apologies, has fun along the way.

Come on Home —Hardees

This tone of voice wears a mustache and speaks slowly and reassuringly.

We Have the Meats —Arby’s

Goes full alpha meathead with tongue in cheek.

Do #3: Clarify Your Position

A third strong tagline tactic is to position yourself against the competition by calling out what makes your restaurant unique among competitors. As a side note, many of these tag lines become obsolete as the food landscape changes.


Think Outside the Bun —Taco Bell

Offers a break from the (at the time) sea of burgers and sammies.

Subs So Fast You’ll Freak —Jimmy John’s

Takes a bite out of typical delivery options, while slinging the crack of gen z, which, as it turns out, is speed.

Eat Fresh —Subway

Offers a break from processed and fried options in the QSR space, albeit with questionable credibility.

Don’t #1: Rest on Your Laurels

Consultants may be right when they tell you to keep doing what made you famous, but that doesn’t mean keep talking about it. Your claim to fame has an expiration date, unless you’re making an integrated play toward nostalgia or authenticity.


Home of the Whopper —Burger King

Well, now I know where to get one, just in case.

Home of the Original Double Decker —Big Boy

I doubt we can find the first person to place patty atop patty, but if we could, I don’t think they’d deserve a Nobel prize.

We Didn’t Invent the Chicken, Just the Chicken Sandwich. —Chik-fil-A

I’ll give Chik-fil-a a partial pass for showing some personality and positioning here, but it may be time to find something new to be proud of.

Don’t #2: Pat Your Own Back

“Says you” is one of our most often used pieces of advice at Vigor. If millennials are skeptical about about corporations, gen z’ers are conspiracy theorists. Nobody will believe your review of yourself, nor should they.


We do Chicken Right. —KFC

At least you never did one wrong.

Better Ingredients. Better Pizza. —Papa John’s

Sure, this one is famous, which is just another way of saying expensive. And do you believe it when you taste that sugary sweet sauce? Didn’t think so.

Not just good… it’s Sonic good. —Sonic

Rule #1 of definitions—don’t use the word to define itself.

Don’t #3: Waste Your Words

Think of your tagline as the most expensive thing your brand will ever say. You have to make it count for something. Or do you?


Come Hungry, Leave Happy.  —iHop

I won’t say which tagline kicked off this whole conversation, but I won’t say it isn’t this one.

What are You Eating Today? —Arby’s

Well Arby’s, I don’t know, but maybe we can talk about the weather over lunch?

Gourmet Chinese Food —Panda Express

It’s a shot at the positioning approach, yet falls into the “says you” trap in the most boring way possible.

Pat yourself on the back. You made it through this article. Creating a strategically sound, creatively compelling tagline can feel like a monumental task. And while guidelines like this can help and inspire, the best way to approach any piece of creative is to develop a proper strategy first. This strategy provides the lens through which to view your tagline, your visual identity, and everything else you do, ensuring that when you have your moment to be heard, what comes out is pitch-perfect for your audience and 100% cringe-free (unless that’s your brand personality).

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Part One: Know Thy Position
31/10/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , , , , ,

Part One: Know Thy Position

This article is the first of a 5-part series about Vigor’s strategic framework.

Imagine that you’re preparing to interview for your dream job. As you carefully comb through your wardrobe, you imagine how each item might strike the interviewer—this shirt is conservative, these glasses make me look smart, these socks are coy, et cetera (we all think about these things, right?) In a moment of inspiration, you make the daring move to wear dressy boots to the interview. “Hard working and independent,” you think. Then, to your horror, you’re seated behind 5 other candidates who made the same bold, unique decision as you.

Now you’ve gone from hard working and independent to a lazy lemming.

You expected to create one impression, but because you didn’t know what you were up against—what the interviewer’s other options were—you ended up making the opposite impression.

The problem was not with the boots, but with a poor understanding of your context. Such is the life of a brand that has a great product but no positioning strategy. Because no brand lives in a vacuum, the experience you offer will always be understood in direct comparison with other options that your patron considers to be most similar to you.

In this context, the worst thing that can happen is that there is little understandable difference between you and the competitor. It’s not enough to have a secret sauce or different colored chairs. You need to put as much space as possible between you and your competitor, you need that space to be along an axis that your patron cares about, and you need to express that space in everything from your personality to your product.

In other words, you need a positioning strategy.

Let’s reimagine the horror-show interview. This time, you have photos, bios, and even the planned wardrobes of every other candidate that will be interviewed that day. You glance through your intel.

“No boots” you mutter to yourself.

As you begin to understand your context, you realize that even though there are 30 other candidates, they’re all playing one of three basic cards—”hard-worker,” “young blood,” and “the veteran.” These are the occupied positions in your market. You re-work your resume, your look, and your whole approach to provide a 4th option, “the strategist.” Now, all things being equal, rather than having a 1/30 chance of getting the job, you have a 1/4 chance, because you are the only candidate representing your position.

But all things aren’t equal—your newfound focus on your position actually allows you to prepare better than anybody else. You rehearse topics relevant to your position, your wardrobe is on-point, and your resume emphasizes your strategic experience. So you now have two layers of advantage: a clear position and better execution within that position.

You crush the interview. You get the job.

With the power of positioning, you can elevate yourself even in a crowded market. That’s why it’s the first step in every strategy we create.

Step two is coming soon, and it’s all about knowing thy patron.

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You vs. Them – A branding lesson in understanding your audience
23/07/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , , , ,

You vs. Them – A branding lesson in understanding your audience

You’re reaching the launching point of a new brand and you’re anxiously waiting to unfurl the new look and brand to the world. You’re certain it will be received with positive feedback, or, at least, it won’t be hated. You know this because you’ve guided the process from beginning to end based on what you know and like mixed with some gut intuition. The brand launches and something isn’t right. People don’t dislike the brand, nor are they drawn to it quite the way you thought. The audience doesn’t react or attract the way you planned and you’re left wondering what went wrong.

This scenario plays out quite frequently. The storied brand was supposed to draw in the millennial audience, but decision makers used their own ideas, perceptions, and, often times, misconceptions, to guide the brand’s look and feel. The results isn’t necessarily an outright failure, but the glaring miss will get bigger and bigger as time goes on if not rectified.

Unfortunately, branding can be quite subjective and very personal to the people involved. No matter how objective we seek to make the process of designing a brand, there is always a bit of subjectivity that seeps in. More often than not, during the evaluation of design is where subjectivity comes into play. Over the years we’ve discussed how we can go about reducing the amount of subjectivity in branding, but we haven’t found the answer as of yet.

The problem arises because crafting a brand is inherently a very personal task. Usually brands are forged in the hearts and minds of a person despite some stating that it’s purely a business transaction. In short, they’re building it to make money. Despite the financial goals, we inevitably end up in back and forth over look and feel that’s fueled by that person’s feelings, rather than the audience of focus.

So how do you start thinking like your audience? Here are a few ways to begin:

Find peace with the fact that you may not like the look. If you’re not a member of the audience you’re trying to attract, then you SHOULDN’T “like” the look very much. It’s not for you. It’s for them. In order to move forward you’re going to have to swallow your pride of authorship and make peace with not liking the look. Unless you and people like you are going to be patronizing the brand, your opinions and personal tastes have to be put aside.

If you don’t get it, it’s probably a good thing. A lot of times we catch clients saying, “I don’t get it.” It usually happens when the age, sex, or cultural divide is significant between the client and their intended audience. Our response is always, “you’re not supposed to, they are.” This is when focus groups can be a good tool. Getting a small group of people that represent your core audience will help assess the strength of visual elements in a brand.

Don’t look to family/friends for feedback. Feedback is crucial in helping form ideas and designs that hit the mark for your audience. However, random, knee-jerk feedback is rarely valuable or accurate. Asking your spouse if they like something isn’t viable feedback upon which you should build a brand. People’s perceptions are formed based on a culmination of what they know and what they have experienced. Their reactions to certain questions will inevitably be skewed by preconceived notions and ideas. Therefore, if you want innovative thinking, asking friends and family is an exercise in futility. You’ll definitely get an answer, and it will certainly be bad advice.

Force yourself to see the world through their eyes. It comes down to forcing yourself to see through the eyes of your audience rather than your own. This is the toughest thing to do, but one of the most important skills you can foster. When you start to trust what your eyes are seeing, despite what your gut says, then you can start to pull together brand identities that work and succeed. It’s about them, not you, so always try to reset into their thinking before evaluating visuals. What would they like? What would speak to their personalities and world?

Seeing the world through another’s eyes is difficult, but something that must be done if you’re to create a brand for an audience other than yourself. It takes purposeful controlling of pride and gut reactions to objectively evaluate design through the lens of others. However, when done correctly, it can be the difference between a disconnected concept that you like, and a holistically connected concept that’s isn’t your favorite. One of those scenarios succeeds, the other plateaus.

Here is more on building consumer connections for restaurant brands

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Key components of successful branding: Be brave. Hold steady.
12/07/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , , , , , , ,

Key components of successful branding: Be brave. Hold steady.

One of the biggest causes of brands missing the mark on innovation is loss of bravery from one or all parties involved. What usually starts as bold conviction early in a project wanes to a point of “different enough” by the time implementation rolls around. The fear of creating something that’s not going to work with a market. But where do these emotions derive?

There is an underlying need for certainty when crafting a new brand – be it a startup branding initiative or a rebranding effort. People want assurances that the new positioning, identity, and other elements will resonate, take hold, and grow successfully. Having this desire for a benchmark for what’s “right” results in emulating existing brands. It’s easy to say, “Hey, it’s working for Craft Brewery X, so we should do the same.”

Unfortunately this thinking is exemplary of fearful thinking and it results in “me too” brands, their products, identities, and all other facets. The world doesn’t need another Stone Brewing, and you’re not going to outdo a brand at its own game. No one can be a better Stone, than Stone themselves. It’s okay to respect and even admire the leaders in an industry, but finding your own stride and your own unique brand takes courage and bravery.

When you’re truly innovative, you won’t have the assurances of previous case studies or examples. The forest is dark, and scary. The only tools you have are sound strategies based on trend analysis, market insights, and foresight. You have to have a mix of gut and trust of knowledge. You have to build the case, believe in it, then eventually take a leap in the abyss knowing that you may be wrong. But if you’ve done the legwork, crafted the strategy, and built the brand’s components to bolster and build around that strategy, the leap shouldn’t be that scary.

Be brave, hold steady. That’s how brands like Stone Brewing, Chipotle, and other innovators rose about the crowd. They trusted their instincts and knowledge, while crowd was following the leader.

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Restaurant Design & Development Magazine Article: 5 ways to bridge the branding & interior design divide
01/06/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , , , , , , , ,

Restaurant Design & Development Magazine Article: 5 ways to bridge the branding & interior design divide

Originally published in Restaurant Design & Development magazine

We’re all familiar with restaurant interiors. We’re all also familiar with restaurant brands. But over the years, I’ve noticed something: More often than not, the brand identity does not align with the experience created by the interior design. Individually, both may be brilliant — each with their own moments of glory — but together, they fall short, and the gap created by various designers is visually obvious. I’m calling for a collective effort to end this disservice for the sake of our clients — and for our crafts.

When someone visits a restaurant for the first time, it’s a moment of truth. Will perceptions be solidified? From the service to the food to the ambience, there are numerous opportunities to dent — even ruin — the brand as a whole. Despite the particular event’s weight, one mustn’t forget that the impression a guest leaves with doesn’t happen haphazardly.

Trying out a new restaurant (and subsequent visits) often happens only after countless touches with the brand. The prospective guest must hear about the restaurant first. Friends might have praised their experience. The prospective guest might read a review in a magazine or online. Maybe he or she saw an advertisement. Before entering the restaurant, many people visit the website to learn more about it. They may have even followed the restaurant on social media before visiting. Only
after these impressions does a consumer move from unaware and uninterested to an engaged customer.

Advertising, word of mouth, digital outlets, reviews and more all culminate to build expectations, guide perceptions and usher a person through the front doors for the first time. Once at the threshold of the restaurant itself, the space via architecture and interior continues the storytelling. Do the architecture and interior design continue the experience seamlessly or do they convey a different story about the brand?

Often, the brand experience before a first visit is vastly different than the on-site experience. The reason for this is quite clear: There was a blatant lack of collaboration and communication between the interior designers and the branding team. Generally, no single entity is at fault for the divide. In some cases, the architecture is well underway before a branding professional is brought on board, or vice versa. No matter the scenario, it’s rare that these two crucial partners communicate and collaborate the way they should.

Most restaurant startup projects see a mix of creatives working in tandem. Each partner focuses on his or her own discipline and on the process of ushering the client through discovery, design and implementation. In this typical scenario, a restaurant opens with a beautiful space and a beautiful brand. However, these two crucial parts of the overall brand experience compete more than they complement. They are often visually disjointed. It’s not always a glaring difference, and sometimes it’s not even consciously noticeable. However, there exists a visual and emotional rift where a holistic and symbiotic relationship should exist.

There are five key steps to ensure the branding team and the interiors team work to create a seamless experience for guests.

Read the suggestions and ideas on 

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QSR, NRN & Campaign all publish new articles penned by Joseph
01/02/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , , , , , , , , , ,

QSR, NRN & Campaign all publish new articles penned by Joseph

2017 has started off with a bang. Our work has been recognized by industry leading publications, GD USA and Print, and over the last couple weeks restaurant and advertising industry publications have shared our thinking. We’re constantly pushing the envelope here at Vigor, and part of doing that is having a finger on the pulse of people’s behaviors and how it affects the restaurant and beverage industries. Both industries are constantly fighting in a sea of sameness; vying for just a modicum of attention from key markets. Whether startup, or growing brands, understanding how your brand fits into their world is paramount for success. The three articles recently published cover some key issues facing restaurant and beverage brands, today. Have a read, and please share if you enjoy.


Why Are Beer Brands Still Ignoring Women?

Campaign Magazine


4 Ways Restaurants Can Win Over Generation Z

Nation’s Restaurant News & Restaurant Hospitality


The New Rules for Naming Your Restaurant

QSR Magazine


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GD USA recognizes our work for Smoke & Duck Sauce
27/01/17 Agency News , In the press # , , , , , ,

GD USA recognizes our work for Smoke & Duck Sauce

When we set out to help our friends over at Smoke & Duck Sauce get into the world, we had one focus: Get people to pay attention to things they thought they knew. For us the opportunity came in Americanizing common Asian food items like the zodiac placemat and takeout menus. Our big thinking led to a redesign of the zodiac mats bringing it up to today’s world. The takeout menus serve as the perfect shape for folding 1 of 1000 origami cranes.

GD USA recently recognized this work via their website. “We’re honored to have the work recognized by such a renowned publication. As readers of GD, we have found the content shared to be of the highest quality and greatest value for the design community. Now, we have a little piece of our hearts and minds contributing to that level of design,” chirped Joseph Szala, Principal and Brand Strategist of Vigor.

From all of us at Vigor, to the GD USA team, thanks a million, friends!

View the full case study for Smoke & Duck Sauce here.

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Featured Article in QSR Magazine: The New Rules for Restaurant Naming
07/01/17 In the press # , , , , , , , , ,

Featured Article in QSR Magazine: The New Rules for Restaurant Naming

Our principal and creative director, Joseph Szala, authored an article focused on successfully naming a restaurant. It starts with the passion driving the restaurant forward. Passion deeper than “good food, good service” table stakes. QSR Magazine picked up the article as an Outside Insights feature. Read it here.

Although published in QSR Magazine, the foundations for name remain relevant for other restaurant formats including Full Service (FSR), Fast Casuals, Casual Dining, and others. Furthermore, the beverage industry from craft beer to spirits and wine can glean the basics of good brand strategy and naming from the article.

Here are some quick quotes to spark your interest:


…you’re probably sitting in a room with a committee throwing the proverbial spaghetti on the wall and hoping that something sticks. Design by committee usually ends in a frustratingly boring result. When you have to appease multiple personalities with varying opinions the common result is vanilla.

The strongest brand names are bolstered by detailed, visceral meaning beyond product and service. In today’s world, “good product, good service,” are tablestakes and bottom line expectations. They’re not differentiators by any stretch.


Read the full article by Joseph on QSR Magazine’s website »

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Erasing the Line: Why linear thinking is a fast-track to failing
29/04/16 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , , , ,

Erasing the Line: Why linear thinking is a fast-track to failing

When speaking with marketing professionals and restaurateurs conversations inevitably turn to new medias, or discussion of which medias are more successful than others. It’s easy to fall into these chats because the landscape of marketing tactics is an ever-changing world. Focusing on new medias or traditional tactics with new features isn’t wrong, but it does play into a large problem commonly found in the world of marketing restaurants and beverage brands: Linear thinking.

Often times marketing strategies take a media-first approach. Brands hear the latest and greatest thing, or a sales person sells them on a “magical silver bullet” media. They take the bait and run with implementing creative specific to said media and anxious await the results. The results rarely show up, and when they do they are almost never up to expectation or promise. Immediately, it’s the fault of the media because “it doesn’t work” and “not worth the money.”

The problem isn’t with media, it’s in the thinking. See, successful marketing isn’t a linear process. Each consumer has a different journey he or she takes to land with food on a fork or drink in hand. We’re a dynamic people who are affected differently by different things and influenced at different moments of our lives. With this kind of ebb and flow, it makes sense that no singular media outlet or tactic can claim to be the end-all, be-all. Nor can you expect it to delivery on such lofty promises.

Instead of attempting to draw a line between a media and the end result of butts in seats, heads in beds, and/or drinks in hands, you need to retrain your brain to think of marketing as weaving a net. Successful marketing is an interwoven, interlocking team of many touch points that work in unison to create many opportunities for conversion. Collectively it is powerful and successful, but only as powerful as what’s locking them all together: The idea.

It’s the idea, the passion, and the “why” that matters most for a brand. That idea must be communicated concisely and with passionate fervor across every single interlocking moment. The idea should dictate the media that delivers it and the results can vary. It’s not always leading directly to a conversion of sale. Sometimes it’s building awareness, or boosting word of mouth. Sometimes the idea is meant to alter understanding or clear misconceptions. Even these semi-intangible results have undeniable benefits to the brand’s bottomline. It’s just extremely difficult to measure because the customer is on a journey that’s far from a straight point A to point B line. Instead, it’s a multiple destination experience. And, yes, it should end in sales. The “end” is just farther away than you think most times.

My advice is to destroy the idea of a straight line, and start thinking about each destination as opportunities to bolster brand love while ushering them towards the ultimate, but not final, destination of conversion.

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