Monthly Archives: March 2013

Strategy and Stuff.


The two tools I use in brand planning are the brand strategy and the marketing communications plan. An old colleague used to refer to the education business as made up of “things and stuff.”  His logic was that things are the tangibles – something that goes thump when you drop it. The “stuff” refer to the stuff you teach. Nice idea, but poor word selection me thinks. Most people think of stuff as tangible and touchable. My brand planning tools are about the “strategy” and the “tools” (stuff).  The tools are the ads, the web, PR, promotions, etc.

Brand strategy in my hose comprises 1 claim and 3 proof planks. You can write a mission statement, messaging ephemera, tone personality and lot of other shizzle, but they tend to murky up the brand waters more often than not.  One claims and 3 supports is all you and anyone need to operationalize and organize your brand’s world.  Interbrand, Landor and all the other branding shops will agree (behind closed doors.) Once that heavy lifting is done all the stuff you make is either on or off strategy. 

So ask yourself, does you brand have a claim? And have you organized that claim’s supports into three discrete, powerful, endemic, customer care-abouts?  Few have.  It can be your edge.  Peace!

Go out and enjoy a parade this weekend!




Ego is the root of all brand planning evil. Okay, will maybe not evil but it can still screw up a good insight. (For returning readers, it can also screw up a good incite.)

When you read your briefs and decks and find this nuggets that sounds and feel motivating you must ask “Is this me talking?”   Is this my point of view?  Or is it a fair and unbiased observation – supported by fact.  NY ad agencies have often been ridiculed for making ads that don’t sell between the wickets, the wickets being the east and west coasts. Are we including everyone when we observer trends, when we ideate?  That’s why testing and researching outside of the big metropolitans areas is important.  

Good planners are paid to think beyond the ego. To think beyond the subject before them. Planners catalog a lifetime of experiences and observations and use them when sorting through their day jobs and assignments at hand. They drop the ego. They drop the leash (Pearl Jam reference).

Remove the ego, the self-projection and you can begin to truly see. (It’s hard.) Peace!




For the last week or so I’ve been interviewing dieticians. They are a fascinating lot.  One of the questions I just decided to add is “Are there any disappointments in your practice area you can share?”  If I hear silence, um or no, I’ll prod “How about, have you a wish list for your business or your patients?”  

These conceptual questions draw out emotional responses, personal responses.

So, I decided to ask myself the same question and the answer might be instructive to tyro planners. My disappointments relate to not selling my brand strategies hard enough. Or well enough.  There are been a number of brand strategies (one claim, three support planks) I’ve sold I know to be powerful, business-winning organizing principles. Powerful enough to redistribute market wealth significantly — but I’ve either let marketing clients, agency creative or C-levels get in the way.  When someone is trying to get a website created or a campaign out the door, they don’t want to spend too much time on its underpinnings. That’s the mistake. That’s my mistake. If you have a solution that will change the brand for the better, don’t let go. Don’t be deterred.

Henning Mankell’s character Kurt Wallander has a father who paints.  He only paints one picture – a landscape. He does it in two flavors: with and without a grouse. That’s focus. That’s a plan. Is he crazy?  Does he see a different painting every time he puts oil to canvas?

A brand plan is not a limiting document, it’s a rich strategy consumers can remember… and consumers can foretell. Peace!

Are you brand planner material?



Ovarian cancer kills 15,000 women in the U.S. every year. 22,000 women are newly diagnosed every year. These are statistics. Grim statistics. Typical Americans see these type of statistics daily in the news and have become somewhat inured – until it hits home, that is. Murder statistics, KIA war statistics and obesity statistics all fall into this category. Marketers, on the other hand, live on statistics: annual sales, unit sales, target pop size, share of market. Account or brand planners care not a whit about the numbers. They care about blood pressure and galvanic skin response. When we talk about saving for college with young moms are they sweating? What does that say about their choice of husband? Their self worth? Can a planner actually smell fear? It does have an aroma you know. Emotions and feelings are what planners care about…and we mine them one person at a time.

If you love statistics it’s okay to get into marketing. If you love people, get into planning. The dude from the TV show Elementary who plays Sherlock Holmes may be a great observer with a bag full of analytical tricks, but he is not good at getting people to share. So Sherlocks need not apply either.

Like people? Want to give people moments of happiness, satiety and comfort? Become a brand planner.  


Inciter or operational?


Who is more dangerous an inciter or someone who is operational (a doer, in other words)?  According to American anti-terrorism law, operational is more dangerous. In marketing it’s the opposite. Of course marketers aren’t really dangerous.  No one gets hurt. 

People who create strategies to alter consumer demand are inciters. Those who develop the strategies through which consumers prefer one product over another are inciters. Inciting is what strategists do. Retail channel people — people at the point of sale — are operational. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important – they can be.  Creative people — the ones who write the copy, create the pictures and edit together the selling story–  they, too, are operational. Influential at the point of communication yes, but operational nonetheless.

Good inciters touch consumers and operational people. Great creative product typically has powerful inciter behind it.  In brand planning, we often talk about insight. We should be talking about incite. Puh-zeace!

To plan or not to plan…


I’ve been interviewing a number of registered dieticians the last few days, all specialists in renal or kidney disease. A fascinating group. This country has about 20 million people with chronic kidney disease and I am guestimating about a half million of those are on dialysis.  

A typical marketer in need of a dialysis ad would call the ad agency in, perhaps invite a physician to brief them on disease and treatment.  Then the agency would go back to its office, do some budgeting, paperwork and layouts and return 2 weeks later with a picture of a sunset of blue sky and a pithy copy about how the future looks brighter with XYZ product.

What would a brand planner do? (What would I do?)

Having primed the pump by talking to the second, maybe first, line of defense for kidney patients – the dietician – I would like to do a DILO (day in the life of) od a dialysis patient. Anthropologists might call this a quickie ethnography.  Wake up in the patient’s house. See what breakfast is like.  Ask about dreams (Freud-like). Watch clothes selection. Find out who they call on the phone.  Probe feelings. Learn about professional support, caregiver relationships and insurance coverage. Plumb the highs and lows.  Listen to the dialog at dialysis check-in. Experience food and drug shopping. Talk meds. Vamp. Care.

In one full day, with his technique, a brand planner could craft an EFFIE winning ad strategy, a medical retailing strategy and a spending level that would redistribute marketing wealth. All in one day. Why are we not doing more or this? Peace.   

The power of but.


David & Goliath talks about “brave.”  Jean-Marie Dru writes and talks about “disruption.”  Lots of ad agencies try to find a word to describe themselves as outside the box thinkers.  I was searching this morning for a video about a young Israeli illustrator who wanted to get published in The New Yorker… his one word is “no,” his story about its power to motivate.

Brand planners have a word too.  It’s the word “but.” Even in our quest to find brand-illuminating patterns, we are wowed by the word but.  The word takes what is considered known and understood and it angles that understanding.  It reorients it in a new way. In a fresh way with a little friction. And as you know friction causes heat.

Sp read your briefs planners, and search for the word but. Wherever you see in on your paper you can be sure you’re  getting close to the idea.   As my Norwegian aunt might have said “tink about it.” Peace.

A Brand Planner’s Prayer


Things we remember.

We remember beauty.

We remember new.

We remember rich.

We remember melody.

We remember funny.

We remember nature.

We remember poetry.

We remember pain.

We remember educators.

We remember warmth.

We remember charity.

We remember happy.

We remember love.

We remember triumph.

These are the things we remember.

These are the things consumers remember.

(I post this brand planner’s prayer once a year as a reminder.)

The future of TV?


There’s a big article today in The New York Times about how non-traditional TV broadcast companies are moving into programming.  Netflix, for instance, is spending $100 on a Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright production called House of Cars. Amazon, Microsoft and others are following suit, producing their own original entertainment.   I visited my son in college and his roommate has Google TV.  To say searching for TV shows and movies using a Google interface is easy would be an understatement. Check it out.  

It will be a dog fight between the TV and cable companies and these new breed, onesy-twosy production companies but one way for the latter to change the game is to rethink the commercial pod. Paid commercials will live on. Good TV production is too expensive to be paid for solely by subscription, so the question is how do we reinvent the commercial break in a way that is more palatable?  Less of them would be a good move. Not so many breaks, another. Contextual spots are an idea. I’m thinking 2 commercial breaks for every 30 minute program. At the 10 and 20 minute marks. For a 60 minute show, three breaks at 12, 30, 48 minute marks.  The price the spots accordingly, abased on supply and demand.  Also don’t allow fast forwarding.

Speaking of fast forward, if we were to zap ahead 30 years, what do you think TV will look like. Will ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox still be around? Thoughts? What say you Reed Hasting?

A note to Kathleen Sebelius.


Michelle Obama and Jimmy Fallon did a nice piece on TV the other day where they danced together. It has already been in The NY Times and had 14M views on YouTube. They can both dance but Ms. Obama really seems to like it.

Dance may be the healthiest form of exercise there is.  “Let’s Move,” or whatever the first lady’s health program thingie is called is a well-intentioned idea. It’s the same as the NFL’s “Play 60” which asks kids to play actively for 60 minutes a day. “Stevie, go out, find a friend and play.”

Eating well, more fruit and vegetables, and exercise are all good. But dancing is fun. It’s infectious. Even if you can’t dance you can learn. Learn rhythm? Oh yeah.  It’s like learning a new language. Start small.  So what do we need to get dancing?  More music. More dance in school. More dance parties. Better dances. (Kate Upton does a nice Dougie.)  A rave or two. Dance is sexy. That’s why birds do it.

When you’re dancing you are not eating, drinking, bad-mouthing or slothing around. And please, no dancing in front of a video game unless you are learning a move. Peace.