Monthly Archives: July 2013

Brand Journalism


I posted a couple of years ago that all large brands should have departments dedicated to social media. Any smart company with 1,000 people will have a social media group. It’s not the case now but you see signs of it. The department will have a writer, videographer, photographer and coder at the very least.

Shane Snow, co-founder of Contently, published a very strong piece on referring to this phenomenon as “brand journalism.” There are lots of good obs and strats in the piece, yet I will take issue with one thought — and that is the use of the word “newsroom.”

He cites Mashable and the Verge as examples of newsrooms and he is correct. But large companies that sell product and services should not follow this newsroom model. Just as in-house advertising departments fall short in creating quality work, so will in-house news orgs; partly because of talent, partly because of mission.

Brand journalists need an editorial plan to excel and that plan must tie to the brand plan. The claim and the planks. Adam Ostrow, who knows a thing about this topic says:

“I think the biggest things that brands need to think about are the topics and themes that matter to their customers and how can they be a valuable member of that conversation – not just the conversation that is trending at any given moment in time on social media.”

This is how we develop band plans, by prioritizing things customer care about. Then we prioritize things the company is good at.

Newsroom is misleading. News is rarely organized. Brands need a plan. Social media departments need a plan. Consumers purchase based upon your plan – not based upon news. It’s probably semantics, but words matter. (I absolutely love this topic. It is an important part of the future of marketing.)


Lazy Brand Planning Trade Craft.


I was at the Beautiful Minds event recently, celebrating the work of Griffin Farley through a competition of tyro brand planners, and was asked a question by someone I admire about the quality of the work. On the spot to say something important, I mentioned the work was very nice and of the problem-solution variety. “Very nice” when speaking to a Brit means okay.  Brilliant means good. Hee hee.

The work was good indeed. The irk for me, however, was the problem-solution thing. Understanding problems and solutions is important for context. But if you stay in problem land it can be lazy trade craft.

Using brand planning to promote hope and justice and other feel-good ideals, related to the endemic “sell” of a product, is taking planning to the next level. And please don’t read that to mean donate 1% of sales to a cause (not that there’s anything wrong with it). We need to be bigger and more aspirational with our brand strategy ideas. And, if not with the ideas, then with the brand planks supporting those ideas.

Movements, storytelling and culture are the haps in planning these days, but hope and justice is what sparks these things. Can there be skin justice in a Nivea brief? How about hope in a Chevy brief? Let’s find out. It’s better than problem-solution.


Data Chunking.


Omnicom and Publicis agreed over the weekend to merge.  Como se unexpected? The story even made front page of The New York Times. The spin was all about big data. More people, more devices, more messages. And the best way to reach all these things is through smart use of earned, owned and rented data.

Data companies are finding new and exciting ways to track people. And it’s only just beginning. Home thermostat apps can indicate when a person is at home, road side cameras can log when a license place passes a dinner, voice activation apps can capture when a body needs a sushi fix.

When I pitch Twitch Point Planning to marketers and their agents I explain the offer in three words: understand, map and manipulate.  Big data feeds the understand and map components. Capture and organize data.  But as David Droga rightly says in the article on the merger (last para.), someone has to do something smart with the data. (When everyone has the understand and map tools, data will just become a commodity.) And that’s the subtext not covered in the Times article. Ad agencies are best at creating the manipulative message. Not bad manipulation, but good. Important. Heartfelt and personal. Dare I say poetic.

I agree that marketers will do understand and map in-house. But the manipulation part, they can’t do well. For this, even for a one-on-one mobile phone ad, they need professionals. If you want to follow the money, this merger is about good old fashion creative, not chunking data. It bodes well for agencies of all size and stripe. Peace! 

Follow the proof.


The boil down is what happens in my brand planning rigor after I feel I’ve collected enough data and information. Lately, I’ve been using Microsoft OneNote, to capture all the market info and links  — a cool tool. When the boil down begins I am looking for proof and patterns.

I was reading an Op-Ed piece about Egypt yesterday and came across two pieces of proof that set me off onto insights – which lead to strategy. These two proofs were the increase in sale of police dogs to citizens and skyrocketing tour guide unemployment.   Lawlessness and fear emerge as problematic outcomes of the unrest in Egypt. Proof informing strategy.

Good planners look to brand strategy that offers both claim and proof.  Too much strategy today is all claim, little proof. Too much marketing, the same. And 90% of advertising is all claim, no proof. Ground up brand planning starts with collection of product strengths, consumer insights, competitive pressures, cultural biases and proclivities, and a deep search for insights and proof. Find the right proof and you are free to move about the brand craft. Peace.

Foster, Bias and Sales.


My political leanings are of a certain color. I tend to read editorialists that support my views and support and form my arguments.  That said, I do make an effort to read opposing views so as to round out my world. 

In brand planning, if you gather your facts mostly from the client extended family, from product users and agency acolytes, you are not being fair to the brand. That’s why focus groups are often conducted among non-users. That’s why I like to interview lapsed users.  In fact, I developed a focus group technique called brand spanking a number of years ago, where you bring in haters to bounce the brand around. Even among haters, a few will defend you (just to be contrary) and in those defenses often lie gold.

In politics, it’s not okay to be unbalanced. In brand planning it is heresy. (Notice I wrote this entire post without using the words “authentic” and “transparent.”  It can be done. Hee hee.


PS. When a kid, I wanted to name my ad agency Foster, Bias and Sales. It is okay to create bias, but not to be biased when developing a brand plan.

The maturation of Algo.


In the Netflix earning report yesterday it was noted that 75% or all streamed hours of content were recommended by the algorithm.  What does that tell you?  It’s an example of the algorithm winning over social recommendation social recos being the “likes” and “ratings” and “reviews” which are the ballast of so many web communities.  

Many marketing studies rate purchase influence and far and away the winning source of influence is always  “friends.”  Advertising is usually way down in the pecking order.  But where is the algorithm in those studies? Not included.

Ad serving is pretty dumb most of the time.  I’m still getting ads served based on project work, not even closely related to what I care about in my personal life. Sluggish algorithm.  But the algorithm employed by Pandora and Netflix?  Now these use energetic algorithms. This is where big data targeting is going. This is where Twitch Point Planning is going. In the “understand, map and manipulate” triumvirate of the TPP process, smarter algos will feed the understanding component. (I am so excited about Twitch Point Planning I could pizzle myself. Even The New York Time paper-paper is using it by providing video links to twitch to a multimedia part of the story.)

Understand the algo — the many competing algos — they are the keys to the marketing future. Peace!    

Now and when.


In the advertising and marketing business thousands of briefs are written every day. 98% of them are tactical.  I was visiting an acquaintance at Wieden and Kennedy and he had to go off to write a couple of ESPN briefs for women’s tennis, or some such.  Sounded like a cool job. Briefs are what planners do. Planners also fill the holes in their day with insight decks.  I’ve done quite a few. 

The other 2% of briefs written are brand briefs the briefs under which all insight deck and tactics briefs will magnetically hover. These are the most important. Frankly, with a great brand brief, many of the other briefs need not be written at all. With one good idea (claim) and three planks (proof of claim), the organizing principle is set and the creative teams prepared.

Sure, specific tactics with unique goals may require a new lens through which to look at a program. A tighter target segment. A new product feature. Yet the organizing principle that is the brand plan is the default marching order. The reality is, many, many companies don’t have a brand brief, just digital folders with scads of the tactical variety. It’s sad and inefficient.

Tactical briefs are for now. Brand briefs are for when. Or better put, for ever. Campaigns and agencies come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.  Peace on Monday!

PS.  I am not suggesting here that W+K does not do brand briefs. The shop is too good not to.



Creative. Ideas. Showmanship.


The finals last night at the Griffin Farley “Beautiful Minds” brand planning competition came down to two ideas: “Bikes with Benefits” and “Don’t Take That Shit.”  The former selected for its cultural currency and energy, the latter for its create-a-movement potential.  The judges, looking at briefs on the CitiBikes program, made the right call giving the competition to the Bikes With Benefits team.  

Great ideas should be able to come from anywhere, yet Bikes With Benefits was a creative idea as well as a strategy — and that can be a problem for some creative teams. Don’t Take That shit was not so much creative as it was a spark for creative. It may have won the room but it didn’t win the judges.   

Another Farley, Jim Farley of Ford, once said great advertising makes you feel something then do something. Both ideas accomplished this. Both strategies were strong.  One idea showed better. Peace.

PS. Great job BBH, Sarah Watson and Angela Sun.  This event is a keeper.




Many think of marketing as acquisition. Or lead generation. Business leaders in that mode don’t really understand brand planning. What often drives leaders who think this way towards branding or rebranding are: old logos, mergers and acquisitions, and boredom. Brand planning though, is all about strategy.

At What’s The Idea? a brand plan is defined as one strategic idea (or claim) and the three support planks – planks that prove the claim and organize how business is done. A mark or logo is best if it supports that idea. Salespeople and operations people are optimized if they are guided by an organizing principle.  Those businesses who don’t get branding can’t ask employees to go out and “blue” for the company based on the color palette or “leader” for the company, based on a mission statement.  

A brand plan makes it so that when every employee leaves the building at night they can ask themselves a strategic question about their performance. And that is the litmus test.

I like to say “campaigns come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.”  Leads come and go. Customers come and go.  Brands strategy should not. If it’s not about building and maintaining business through strategy, it’s not a brand plan.

Employees come and go too, their understanding of the strategy should not. Executives talk all the time about company culture. At the best companies strategy is enculturated.  Peace.

Rose Color Your Glasses.


I was judging at The Beautiful Minds Event last weekend, a wonderful BBH-sponsored celebration of the life of Griffin Farley, and was struck by how rose colored my glasses have become.  Not sure if it’s all the find the pain point pop marketing books the kids read in school or what the media hath wrought, but most of the young were wrapping their strats around problem solving. (Beautiful Minds, BTW, is a competition among tyro brand planners.)

The brief the competitors were chasing was about Citibikes. Imagery of sweat, commuter angst, cramped subway cars and ornery taxi drivers abounded.  Where was the happiness factory? Readers know I love Coke strategy and have been a little contrary when it comes to the happiness strategy. Growing up at McCann and seeing how “refreshment” can be optimized for Coke sales, I’ve not been “feeling” the happiness thing.  But then I watched the lovely “Small World Machine” video designed to bring closer together Pakistani and Indian youth. I cried then said to myself “that’s refreshing.” A different kind of refreshing.     

With all the negativity in the world, all the cop/killing TV shows, movies about aliens eating cities, religious wars and hate mongering, it’s not hard to stick out with some positivity. Let’s not just fix problems with our strategies, let’s surround and celebrate the good.  And let’s teach the youth to do so as well. Check all your briefs at the door people. Peace.

RIP Aunt Irma. The Poppe matriarch.