Monthly Archives: December 2011



This is my last post of 2011.  Are you ready?  It’s a short one.

No one loves consumers more than I. I study them, they are my living. But consumers don’t know scheiße (German, pronounced shy-zah) about managing brands; let’s stop pretending they do. May peace be upon you.

Segment Differently.


For strategic planners of a certain stripe (read brand planners) segmentation is not just about physical characteristics, e.g., purchase frequency, amount purchased, price sensitivity.  It’s about psychological characteristics. If one tries to pattern people into motivational, psycho-social and cultural groupings, things begin to look different.  It is these patterns that provide insights that help create more impactful marketing ideas.

Let’s look at education a little differently. Here are three different student segments.  First Impoverished in Body.  Those who live in Karachi or Rio or Dharavi….or in crazy poverty in the U.S.  Students who worship the ability to learn and better themselves. Kids starved for education, inspiration and opportunity. They sit at the front of the class and shush the other kids. At the other end of the spectrum live the Silver Spoon Kids of Privilege. Bred to succeed, sired for $40,000 a year private high schools, loved and nurtured to be better earners. And in the middle, the third segment, the Public School Majority. What’s the opposite of a Tiger Mom? These kids float through school not to prepare for the future, but because the bus picks them up. No idea about major, a modicum of pride in grades, education for them is not a tool but a pass time. Sports and booty rule the day.  (There are a lot of grays I missed, yo understando, but these are okay brackets.)

These segments are palpable. Alive. Rich. Worthy of deep thought for marketing minds. If you are Staples or St. John’s University, Apple or JanSport how do you think about your consumers? And their parents. Segment different. Peace.

Creative that sells.


Not sure where I first heard the phrase “creative that sells” but it stuck with me.  Obviously, the first definition relates to selling marketer’s goods and services. It’s what marketers do: create words, pictures, sounds and motion that inspire feelings and actions to move product. But another definition of “creative that sells” exists — and it relates to agencies making a profit. An agency that puts 100 hours into developing a piece of TV, print or digital creative that doesn’t sell to the client is an agency that has to do it again. That inability to sell creative the first time out costs agencies money…and rep.  Unfortunately, creative that does sell the first time out is often safe creative. Repackaged creative. Repurposed, even borrowed creative. It feels familiar because it is familiar.

Creative that sells (first definition) differs from creative that sells (second definition) in that the former is “wild yet fitting.”  It moves product because it is untamed and unique but appropriate when offering up claim and proof. Conversely, off the shelf creative and/or wild creative that is not fitting sells to clients but not to consumers. Great creative people know this. Great creative people know when to throw a fish back into the ocean.  It may be a great fish, just not for today. Sadly, there are a lot of seine net operators out there and it’s hurting both marketing and agencies. When an idea is right, for the right reasons, and sustains all parties, it will sell. By both definitions.

The best worst job in America.


One of the most exciting yet scariest jobs in the world is probably CMO of the Magazine Publishers of America.  The MPA is an association funded by competing print and online properties that fight one another harder than the GOP and Dems at holiday time.  To say the magazine business is changing would be an understatement.  But to a great extent, it is also staying the same.  All that’s changing is what’s delivered and how.  Brilliant photo journalism is still required but now must include video.  Great writing, analysis and thought leadership still win that day – but there is a lot more competition (bloggers) and algorithmic noise.

Readers twitch more today than ever before, requiring magazine publishers to anchor them to their sites.  And advertises, the lifeblood of the magazine business, are becoming enamored of publishing and content creation. And don’t forget magazines are made from trees, not a particularly forward thinking resource. (Though probably more renewable than circuit boards.)

Herding the powerful magazine cats out of the marble hallway is a challenge. It requires someone who has more power than the cats themselves. Someone who commands respect. Probably not an ink-stained patriarch, but someone with mad vision. Someone who can see beyond the dashboard. Who the Lewis and Clark is?   If you thought being CEO of Yahoo was tough, keep your eyes on this search. Peace.

Officious and Dysfunctional Strategies.


Officious is a wonderful word and one too infrequently used in strategic planning.  An adjective, it is defined as: objectionably aggressive in offering one’s unrequested and unwanted services, help, or advice; meddlesome: an officious person.  Strategies that lead to this type of brand claim are a blight.  Conversely, strategies so soft and huggable consumers cozy up to a tangent in order to get the brand claim, are also a blight. Some might call that borrowed interest.

What does Coke do better than any other soft drink?  Refresh. People want to be refreshed, so offering up examples of how and when Coke refreshes in not officious. Telling them Coke is more refreshing (world’s most, more people refresh, more refreshing than…) is.  As Coke and Wieden and Kennedy would have you believe today, Coke makes you Happy. That’s borrowed or tangential. It makes for nice advertising and playful Coke machines, but is an indirect sell. When Coke gets back to its core refreshment value and shows us how it refreshes, proves how it refreshes, the advertising will sell more.

The line between officiousness and borrowed, tangential value in not a fine line, ii’s a chasm.  So what do so many brand strategies jump to one or the other? It’s dysfunction, is what it is. Peace!


Brand Planting, I mean Planning.


I’m an idea farmer.  A strategic farmer.  I assess the ground, rid it of things that will hinder growth, and then I plant.  I search for the right kind of idea, make sure it’s clean and healthy, and put it into an environment where it can grow strong.  This is what many strategic planners do and where they often stop. 

Too often planners hand off the idea and let the elements take over.  But ideas need attention. And cultivation. Water and sunshine. They can handle some bad weather, it’s natural,  but this is not a “plant and go” business. There are ideas I have planted for corporations a decade ago that are still growing. Their root systems are strong. Long gone is my paper, but those roots are herculean.

There are lots of consultants and freelance planners bouncing around who are in it for the invoice. They plant the seeds and go farm elsewhere. Me, I like to stick around and watch what flowers and bears fruit. I like to use those grown nutrients to sustain additional growth. Strategic planners who seed an idea but don’t get involved with the deliverables – aiding other departments to bring the idea to life — are either poorly managed or cowardly.  Life is not easy for an idea farmer.

If you are in the business of redistributing marketing wealth, growing markets, you need someone who plants and cultivates. Peace!     

Music in Advertsing.


It is that time of year when people start talking about the “bests.” In advertising, most agree the two best spots are Deutsch’s Darth Vader spot for Volkswagen and Wieden and Kennedy’s Chrysler ad with Eminen “Imported From Detroit.”  Both are car ads but in my opinion what sets these spectacular efforts apart is the use of music.

Music was once a much bigger part of advertising than it is today. Often, it’s a throw-away now.  Big ad agencies used to have large music departments with recording studios, op boards and lots of seats for musicians to sit in while awaiting auditions.  Today music departments are on someone’s computer. When the spot is 65% complete someone might ask “What kind of music bed do we need?”

Muscle memory is something I always have my clients aspire to in branding and advertising.  Associate your work with clear ideas, images, turns-of-a-phrase or something to hum.  When I hear Eminem these days I’m ready to buy Detroit. To buy Chrysler. I’m thinking Kid Rock and “In it to win it like Yserman.” Imported From Detroit was is a brilliant brand strategy – but the spot was even better.  Poetry and music are still the best ways to deliver a sale. Peace.  And RIP Police Officer Peter Figoski.

Job Interview Question.


One of my favorite interview questions when hiring is “Tell me about me.”  It often creates quizzical looks. Perplexed looks. I usually reserve it for half way through the interview and sometimes step out of the interview for a couple of beats so the candidate can look around my office.  If I am shined on, that’s telling.  If the response is “I just met you.” Another ding. 

In the advertising and marketing business, people with good observation and interpretation skills are very valuable.  The ability to process information quickly and tell truths, even more so.

One time I almost got into trouble asking the question.  For some reason a young lady thought the question bordered on harassment. She lost her cool for a second. I didn’t recommend hiring her, but since as they used to say at McCann she was a “special” (friend of a client), hired she was. She turned out to be quirky indeed. 

Try the question out sometime, it’s pretty cool and provides a nice cull of the candidates. Peace.

Brand Diaspora


Pronounced “dayh –AS –por-ah,” the word refers to any group migration or flight from a country or region. I first started using “diaspora” in conjunction with the word “brand” when working as a planner for an agency on Microsoft. 

As a planner and seller of technology goods in a market dominated by Microsoft for many years, you couldn’t help but bump up against them. Envy them. Be angered by them. And use them contextually. The Microsoft ethos made it into many a brief and marcom plan.  Grouchos, for instance, was a target I created to refer to Microsoft haters who loved open source and were repelled by all things Microsoft. A planning rigor I developed called “brand spanking” was the result of this people’s willingness to discuss and spank market leaders.

One of Microsoft’s biggest failings over the last 15 years and one which has impacted brand value is something I call brand diaspora.  Microsoft’s brand and sub-brands have been allowed to meander, disperse and diffuse from the homeland. And in many cases they’ve gotten lost.

As I look at all the product and service names, naming extensions, release numbers, calendar years and portfolio reorganizations my head spins.  From a company that invented the first software suite, Microsoft Office, a brilliant naming convention, we’ve seen quite a perplexing mishmash: Windows Live, SkyDrive, Office 2007, Office 2010, Office Live, Office Web Apps, Live@Edu, Office Live Small Business, Live Meeting, OneNote, Office 360, Windows Azure, Windows 7, Windows 7 for Mobile, Outlook, Exchange, Access, Publisher, Office Professional Plus, Sharepoint, Communications Servers, Windows Server Hyper-V, Windows Live Mesh, Hotmail, Outlook Express. And that doesn’t scratch the surface.

I actually love the good things Microsoft has done for the world. And it’s natural to pick on the overdog, but technologists, with all their 1 and 0s, have never been great at branding and brand planning. Brand Diaspora is one sad result. Peace.

Best Buy Default.


I love making predictions.  When I started disagreeing with Barry Judge, CMO of Best Buy, a few years ago about marketing and brand management, implicit in that disagreement was that Best Buy would have earnings troubles. You see, Mr. Judge jumped on the pop marketing band wagon proclaiming “companies don’t own brands, consumers do.”  My response was this view was lazy and opened the door for disorganized brand management. Even a number of P&G digitists were agreeing with this fallacious notion.

Best Buy’s net income is down 30% this quarter, all due to price cutting.  If your name is Best Buy and you ask customers what they want they’ll say “coupons and low prices.” If you don’t create another value for your customers they default to price.  And when customers default to price you’re not marketing, you’re simply selling.

Mr. Judge and his army of Twelpforcers and sales assistants needed a plan. They were in the right neighborhood (providing assistance), but bounding about without a motivation.  Had they a plan, had someone at the top managed the brand rather than turned it over to the masses, Best Buy would be killing it now as we slide step out of recession. 

The good news for Mr. Judge is it’s not too late to fix this thing. He has more data, more inputs and more mindshare than he knows what to do with.  If he organizes his house with some serious brand management chops, next year Best Buy won’t be covering up price tags to fend off the smartphone price scanner apps, they’ll be smiling with gold teeth. Peace.