Random Thoughts on Why I Blog?


Yesterday I asked myself the question “Why do you blog?” With nearly 2,600 posts and counting, it’s high time.  I mean I am a strategist after all, preaching focus and intent daily.  Do I blog to teach and make myself look smart? Do I blog to generate business inquiry and revenue? Do I blog to inspire thought and action? 

One thing I do know, I blog to become a better writer.  No wise cracks.

A great many of my posts seem to target people who don’t understand brand strategy. And because those people don’t understand, they aren’t searching for it. Chicken and egg. And to be totally honest brand strategy is a fairly arcane and untested science.

As for my heroes in the brand strategy community, they already know this stuff. They are informed. So I can’t be writing for them. Tyro brand planners? Yeah, they would find these writings more worthwhile. 

Potential clients, where the consulting money is, are searching for marketing solutions.  So while that target is into baseball I’m writing about football. Doh!

I like hanging with brand people. Talking insights. Tools. Learnings. And success. Were I to quantify the number of said strategists, however, it would probably number less than 1,000 on the planet. Some might call them a dying breed. (I could even link the decline to global warming if I worked at it.)

So perhaps it’s time for a redirect. From now on, I will make an effort to speak more to marketers, not planners. Maybe one or two more blog posts a year.  Hee hee.

Phew, I feel better.



Tangential is Good. And Bad.


In brand planning tangential is something to which you want to pay attention. Learning comes from everywhere. The broader you cast your learning net the better. Anything to spark and idea. Any new way to look at data, information and opinion.  Faris Yabok a learned and smart brand planner will be the first to admit his bailiwick is recombinant information and ideation. He calls it genius steals. To Faris nothing is new and everything is new. Tangential can be a good living…to a planner.

In business however, tangential is not a strength. Dan Guido, CEO of Trail of Bits, understands this. Dan is a master brand builder and world class infosec leader. He lives his business goals and plots the path there with rapt attention…minimizing distraction. He knows he can morph and slide the business based on demand and futures, yet tangents to core abilities need not apply.

You don’t get to be Faris smart or Dan smart without living with tangential awareness. The key is knowing what to do with it. On or off.




The Secret Sauce Of Brand Discovery.


At What’s The Idea? discovery is the secret to developing a brand strategy. Discovery being short hand for people talking about the product or service. And when I say talking, it can mean people talking to reporters — who do a nice job of capturing compelling thoughts, opinions and stories. (Tip: Find the best journalists or bloggers rather than the also rans.)  When immersing in a new category I like to ask people who their favorite “read” is. I once asked the publisher of Time Magazine who he thought America’s best editorial writer. William Safire he offered quite quickly. Even over his own columnists. I love truth.

Where rubber meets the road in brand planning is what one does with all the discovery.  It’s nice to have a lot of different paint colors but you can’t add them all together.  I was reading a recipe for remoulade this morning and dismissed it out of hand. Too much stuff in the recipe.  And I love remoulade. It’s a nice analog for brand strategy. Too much stuff kills brand strategy so the planner must prioritize. In my case, I organize into a claim and proof array. I can’t promise you the claim emerges first, sometimes if does. The scientist in me wants to suggest once the proof array is decided, the claim emerges – but that, too, is not always the case. It’s a little bit art, a little bit science.

But fear not — organize your proof into the most compelling care-abouts and good-ats (3 proof planks in total) and you’ll be well on your way. Back to the remoulade analogy, you’ll also be able to understand what you are tasting and why.




Packaged Goods and Experience.


I define brand strategy as a framework for product, experience and messaging.  The experience component is often a bit of an outlier but good branding companies take it seriously. Experience as a brand component is particularly important in retail and business to business but how does one deal with experience in packaged goods?  A bottle of salad dressing is a bottle of salad dressing. You can say “packaging” is experiential. Perhaps “labeling.” But opening a bottle of Samuel Adams is the same as opening a bottle of Bud. It’s tough.

Along comes the internet and now we have a little something more to play with. Web experience can be built so as to adhere to brand strategy. Not via messaging, i.e., pictures, copy and sound but through the actual user experience. The brand strategy claim and proof array should be delivered in actions, navigation and visitor behavior.

As an example, let’s look at Highland Brewing whose claim is “Pioneers in craft.”  The website experience should deliver on the claim. Perhaps some tips on how to make beer. Or a demonstration of what makes a craft beer different from a mass-produced pasteurized beer. Someone around the campfire this weekend said done poorly a website can be an “electronic brochure placed in the ether that gathers dust.” Well let’s make websites package learning, create new behaviors and reward deeds – that’s how you can upgrade your packaged good experience.




Brand Strategy Informs Product and Product Handlers.


Brand strategy, in this age of service marketing and the internet, where not everything sold has a label, is not as it used-to-was. Here’s a new worldview.

At What’s The Idea? brand strategy is defined as “an organizational framework for product, experience and messaging.”  The existential function of branding to date has been naming, logos and labeling — followed by the design of marketing materials. But a huge percentage of sales these days come not from labeled products and goods, but from services and digital; things that are malleable and easily changed. Today it’s okay – no preferred – for brand strategy to inform the product, not just the other way around.  

It’s a strategic palindrome: the product/service informs the brand strategy and the brand strategy informs the product/service. That’s step one. Brand strategy informs the product.

Step two is brand strategy informs product handlers. This allows everyone instrumental in selling, marketing and product-consumer interface (experience) to do so in a non-random, value-based way. Not cookie cutter. Strategic.

From metaphor land, product handlers are making deposits in the brand bank.

Once the product is right and the product handlers are indoctrinated, then we can start to think about messaging. 

Sadly, branding dollars are mostly spent on naming, signage, collateral design and ads – without a deeper codified thought.  A paper strategy or strategy of words is the brand building fundamental today. It can be measured. And, overlaid with revenue numbers. Try doing that with a logo.

(Rest in peace mama. You were a treasure.)




First Get The Brand Right.


Here’s my pitch to people who manage small and mid-size companies. Also, to large companies in technology, considered purchase and B2B categories – most of whom think marketing is the main tool of growth. Marketing being defined as creating demand, proper pricing and good distribution.  I explain that marketing today is mostly practiced as a downstream pursuit with time spent on buildables. On tactics and execution. “Update the website. Generate more social engagement. Put on a promotional event.”

I counsel these people, these builders, to first get the brand strategy right. First and foremost.  Because the brand strategy sets the parameters of winning in the marketplace. It establishes a framework for product, experience and messaging. The irony of my job is that I often have to look and product, experience and messaging, after the fact, to help create the framework.  It’s a little bass-ackwards.

Get the brand right and it’s so much easier to get the marketing right.  “Ready, fire, aim” it’s not.




Rocketship Brands.


Beyond Meats is a plant-based meat company (semantics much?) that recently went public. As someone trying to cut way down on animal fats I’ve dabbled in veggie burgers and for a while tried Beyond Burgers while waiting for Impossible Burger general availability. I liked the Beyond Burger okay, so long as I topped it with grilled onions, ketchup, light mayo, whatevs. That is, until that non-hamburger aftertaste started to rear its head.

With Impossible now available at Burger King (loves me some Cheese Whoppers), I can now get my burger fix there. If only they would serve the burger hot a la “flame broiled.”

Back to Beyond.  In addition to burgers they make two sausages: an Italian and a brat. I first tried the Italian and it was wonderful. Not “splooge you in the face with fat” wonderful, but a nice mixture of Italian seasonings that would make a Bronx grandma proud. My expectations for a good brat were low. But guess what? It was killer. Maybe even better than the Italian. Stevie has a new friend, Stevie has a new friend.

The best brands result from the best products. The best brand strategies provide an organizing framework that celebrate the product. A good product with a bad brand strategy can work – brains go only so far where the taste buds, loins and physiological self are concerned. But get the product right (like Beyond Meat) and the brand strategy and you have an impenetrable combination. A rocketship!



Words Are Important.


 As you know, words are important. Unless you use them as marketing effluvia. And that’s a challenge for most copywriters. Many writers think it’s the words not the content that carry the water. So long as the words don’t get in the way in terns of communication and function, the writing itself is not as important as the content.

For a few years now I have been defining brand strategy as “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” I’ve taken a second look at this definition and though “organizing  principle” is, indeed, what a brand strategy is, the word principle can be a bit misleading. And fluid. Part is the problem with brand strategy is it’s a little like interpretive dance.  Creative people like it that way. Open to interpretation is freeing. By replacing the word “principle” with “framework” the dance is still there but the interpretation is removed.

A framework makes it easy for marketing tacticians and builders to make stuff. With a framework you are either on strategy or off. No interpretation.

A framework is tied to brand objectives, which are tied directly to marketing objectives and therefore measurable revenue. Framework is existential. Principle not so much.

Brand strategy: An organizing framework for product, experience and messaging.  Me likey.




Focus Your Roll.


I went to a networking event last night called Mojo Connect. One of those speed dating deals where you sit and talk with people for 5 minutes before moving to the next station.  People aren’t brands but when a brand planner you tend to do discovery on them. Especially, if looking for talent, opportunity and/or to lend some assistance – all brand planning modus operandi.

One person I met stated she was a travel writer.  Then she said she spent a good deal of her career in corporate communications. She added consultant to the list of good-ats. Business consultant. But also a lover of photography, which went nicely with travel writing.  Very nice women mind you. And I’m sure she was good at all these things. But focus was not her strongest suit. The net she cast was wide.

This reminds me of a time when I was a pup in the ad business and asked by my dad to interview a soon-to-be college graduate who happened to be the son of our biggest client Youngs Drugs, makers of Trojan Condoms. Perhaps this foretold of my career in brand planning.  The young man said he was good with people (account). He also liked to write (creative). He added an aptitude for numbers (media) and the list went on. A fledgling myself, I offered up the supreme strategy of focus. Pick a spot.

What goes around…




Healthcare Evolution from a Planner’s Perspective.


Two nights ago, my Uber driver told me about an island off the coast of Maine — Vinalhaven was its name — that indexed higher than any place in the country for diabetes. Apparently, there was a little bit of in-family diddling back in the day-day. Island people! The island became a renowned area for diabetes research.

The brand planner in me is reminded that studying discrete geographic areas and cultures can pay big dividends.

I’m a big fan of healthcare brand planning. As we look at healthcare on a broad scale, it helps to first look on a smaller, more controlled scale. Population health is big these days and as data is collected in health problem hotspots, say lead poisoning among children or breast cancer among women, we gain a clearer picture of possible causes, AKA epidemiology.

There’s a regional healthcare organization in North Carolina called Novant Health. Anecdotally, I hear them to be a very connected, integrated provider. Their goal is to consolidate on a single Electronic Medical Records platform and share information seamlessly across many practice areas. When an organization fulfills the promise of complete integration it becomes easier to study. And data becomes more valuable.

Just as Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution in the discrete geosphere of the Galapagos Islands, healthcare providers can evolve quality when parsing data across a tighter population. 

When (and if) we move to a single payer healthcare system it won’t be long before we standardize and coalesce record keeping, thereby driving cost and inefficiency out of care. We will also become better planners.