Monthly Archives: August 2013



Labor Day is a federal holiday dedicated to the celebration of laborers. Much of the labor movement revolves around business operations. Wages. Healthcare. Retirement. Fairness. Fast food workers across the country are participating in work slowdowns as a result of these issues.

Much focus in business today is operational. And financial. Without good operational fundies, businesses regress.  But good fundamentals without purpose do not great businesses make.

America’s brand, if it were a brand, would be freedom. That’s what we’re known for. It’s our guiding light. Freedom is the first word non-Americans use to describe us. But life here has gotten so complicated and economically-focused we’ve lost a little sight of our brand. We’re too focused on operations. Similarly, companies, without missions, without purpose, fall into the same trap and have diluted brands.

The best CEOs and C-level executives don’t allow this. Laborers need a mission. Building a strong purposeful mission, a strong brand, makes labor a little less like work and a bit more aspirational.  A thought. 

Happy Labor Day.   

Engage Maslow.


Is it easy to engage the angry? Of course it is. Toss a match. Is it easy to engage Zen-ed out lovers of life? Sure, toss a petal or feather.

Talking sports with a sports guy, Pearl Jam with a Ten Club member, Common Core with a teacher – these are topics about which people can easily engage; even people who don’t know one another. When it comes to selling, however, engagement is not so easy.  That’s why the word “engagement” is such a popular topic in marketing.  Fred C. Poppe, often wrote about engagement in the 70s and 80 and it did him well, but today engagement is almost a cult-like pursuit. 

People are not always consumers.  Sometimes, they are just people. When you treat people as consumers you treat them differently. And they can smell you a mile away. Pop marketing suggests we need to give people things of value with our marketing and communication to earn their interest. True this. But everyone’s definition of value may change by time of day, stage of life, and as Robert Scoble will talk about in his upcoming book situational context.

The best marketing is based on a full-duplex model. A two way model. One way marketing is over. The days of things sticking to the wall are over. Today we are talking to people. People who are twitching away from our messages with increasing speed.  Planners who search for people value – think Maslow – are the best searchers. Peace.

Home Pages Are Buzz Kills.


I often come across websites that are so filled with information that have to twitch away. If any of the tabs or copy blocks challenge or spark me, I may click through, but too much information is a turn off.  It’s like the web developers want to please everyone at the company. And because they are coders, they choose to solve the problem of TMI through ones and zeros. But consumer brains shut down. Twitch.

There is a nice trend these days whereby designers use lovely powerful bleed graphics to dominate the home page.  If on strategy and properly organized with some nav to more functional second pages, this works well. You simply can’t put every room in the house in the front hallway.

Many new and emerging companies overdo the content on their homepage. By providing too much info they talk themselves out of a customer contact. They should be showing just enough ab (didn’t say leg), to create further interest.

My last peeve, and it’s somewhat controversial, is to deliver the brand strategy on the home page. Rather than organize the website homepage by product, target group, about and successes, how about we convey and prove the brand story. Home pages today are buzz kills. They are ugly tables of content.  No wonder we need to invent an industry to generate traffic (content strategists).  Peace.

An in-sourcing discussion.


Brand Planner:  “So tell me about the best marketing decisions you made recently?”

CEO: “Oh that’s easy. Instead of paying for all of our printed pieces to outside suppliers, I leased a high speed color copier. It trims, collates, prints on both sides and saved us lots of money compared to previous years. It’s huge. I had to install some new air-conditioning and we pay for the toner on a per-piece basis, but the ongoing savings are wonderful.”

Brand Planner:  “Okay. Any other strategic moves?”

CEO: “Well after we paid and outside firm a friend recommended to design a logo — which was wonderful by the way — we used the firm to do some direct mail. It was very expensive and didn’t really pay for itself, so I decided to build an in-house marketing department. We have a creative manager, a junior designer, copywriter, web manager, and three coders.  One of them even developed an i-Pad app that Apple approved.  We’ve been dabbling with someone to direct the department, but is hasn’t always worked out; we want things to remain fluid. Our head of sales and top product people are pretty good at that stuff, so they lend a hand.”    

Brand Planner: “What has been the return on this in-house strategy?”

CEO: “Oh we’re saving lots of money. You know what it would cost to have all those people working for us at an agency?”

Brand Planner: “How have consumers responded? ”

CEO: “Our sales are off a couple percent, but that’s not the marketing department’s fault. The sales team needs a kick in the pants.”

Brand Planner:  “Have you has any marketing campaigns of which you are really proud this year? Anything that has activated your customers and prospects? ”

CEO: “Our magician ad is amazing; it won a readership award in one of the trade pubs. And everyone loves our promotional calendar.  Did I mention we hired a content strategist?”       

Uncovery, prioritize, motivate.


Many consultative processes that involve business understanding and improvement follow a fairly obvious 3-step path.  It starts with discovery, moves to strategy then ends with programs.  I’d like to suggest an alterative to those fairly common steps: uncovery, prioritize and motivate.

Uncovery is a little different from discovery in that it presumes much of what you need to know is known and obvious, it just needs to be seen anew and parsed. Discovery suggests you are looking for things for the first time.  

Prioritization is about deciding what’s most important to the business, consumers and future value.  You can’t be all things to all people. Anyone can strategize, not everyone can decide which of the children to take in the lifeboat. Poorly run companies try to have it all and be everything to everyone —  and they fall into the fruit cocktail category.  Lots of different fruit, everything tastes like pear.

Motivate replaces programs.  If your goal is to motivate behavior, preference or action (we love action), then motivation is how you should be thinking. Not activation. Or direct response. Or awareness. Motivation is your starting point. Programs are the language used to deliver the behavior.  If you start with the language you’ll often find yourself speaking in tongues.

No go forth and plan. Peace.


The package.


Imagine if you went to the grocery store looking to buy your favorite product and each time you visited the package had changed.  Harder to find and buy, no? Then imagine trying to explain to a friend where to buy that product and what to look for. The shelves aren’t alphabetized and product sets are only known and understood by retailers and category captains, so without packaging its not an easy task. If the only descriptors you have for a product are package size, color, name, and feature, e.g., low fat, mesquite flavor, then changing the packaging every week would be an utter marketing fail.

Poor brand management has the same effect. Mixed messages used in ads, promotion, activation, PR, web will confuse people. Think of your brand plan as packaging. Packaging that is harmonious, organized, easy on the eyes and brain, and consistent.

As Laurel Cutler used to preach, “spend money making deposits in the brand bank.” You can live through some withdrawals but it is best to minimize them. Find your brand plan first then Pass Go. Happy August Friday!

Peace in Syria.

Social Media and the Brand Planning Hammer


Who handles social media at large companies? Corporate Communications? Public Relations? Investor Relations? Marketing? Website? Customer Service? Human Relations.  Yes.  And at large companies there are often regional and international offices. Yes and yes. Most large corporations have a number of agency partners, as well: ad agencies, PR shops, digital, retail, B2B, promotion shops – you get the idea.  And God forbid, some of the people on payroll are career climbers trying to do some new things, new ways and name a name for themselves? So who is orchestrating all of this stuff? Is it the CMO? That wo/man with the 19 month shelf life?

Social media, one component of marketing, is creating a dilution of corporate brands and products similar to what global warming is doing to the glaciers and icecaps. We know it’s happening, we just don’t believe it. And we are having too much fun with our carbons. I mean social tools.

So what’s the fix Mr. Steve Poppe (as my friend Rachel might say)? An organizing principle that governs the product, its experience, and all facets of marketing. A brand plan: one idea (strategy), three planks.

Customer service, guided by a brand plan is better customer service. Pricing supporting a brand plan, better pricing. These are the words of the brand planner. Peace!

PS. Thanks to Altimeter Group’s Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang for the thought starter. 


Storytelling vs. Crescendo Building


Storytelling in advertising and marketing is the haps. The narrative. The customer journey. These approaches refer to getting consumers onboard without direct selling. Direct selling being “me, me, me” advertising versus storytelling which is you, you, you — always a more thoughtful approach. An approach much harder to get funded by marketing officers.

Agencies like storytelling because it creates buildables. Video is big. A friend of mine with a women’s sneaker company tells me “everyone keeps calling trying to sell me video.” BBDO has a Lowes Vines story on its website, boasting of effective 6 second Vines videos that only cost Lowes $5,000.

I’m down with storytelling. And video. And the digital journey through an assortment of buildables. But I’m more down with strategy. Or moving consumers to the moral of the story –what one feels about a brand as a result of all the work. And it’s not just a click or a product purchase, it’s the why. I bought a Coke because I wanted refreshment. I bought a Krispy Kreme donut because I deserved a treat.

Story telling is good but branding is more like crescendo building. Moving custies closer to full on purposeful love. Geico, could take a note or two here. Peace.

Knowing what to measure.


There were lots of clues leading up to the recent cultural/political explosion in Egypt. Guard dog sales were up and tourism jobs were tanking. Peru, a nation on an economic high, shopping malls filled with middle and upper class citizens, at first glance seems to be hitting on all cylinders. But monthly exports of copper, other metals, and minerals were down the first 6 months of this year; China is buying less.  Someone adding up mall sales may think all is good — but they’re measuring the wrong things.

In brand planning, knowing what to measure is a key planning tool. Paul Matheson, a planner with some big old chops taught me early on that we need to look at contemporary culture so as to have richer context for our strategies.  It’s not enough to use the typical brick and mortar marketing data, e.g., sales, share, demographics, etc.  And frankly, data sources are growing like crazy, thanks to big data computing and all the neat information trails provided by digital agencies.  That said, we must understand the beyond the data and see the culture of buying. And that includes the larger macro surround. Cue data, a la guard dog sales and the culture change it implies. 

The planner’s brain can do its own multivariate statistical analysis, without the math and expense, if it knows where to look. 

Find the cues and win the day. Peace. 

Watching people work.


A great deal of market research is focused on understanding and mapping how consumers buy. With big data making almost every consumer transaction recordable and quantifiable we have more information than ever before about “when” and “how” buyers buy.  That’s quant. Beyond the data charts, there are qualitative ways to watch how buyers buy. Store observations, mall intercepts and focus groups. This helps get us to the “whys.” All good learning. 

I learned early on however, that understanding the buyer is not enough. I like to watch the sellers sell. More broadly, I like to watch them work. That’s why ad agencies tend to put creative people behind the counter at fast food restaurants when pitching Mickey Ds and the like. Sales people will tell you how they sell, but watching them is often a different story. It’s the theory vs. the practice. And it’s not just sales people that need to be watched. It is other employees. Don’t overlook anyone when studying a company. Insights are everywhere. Context is everywhere.

If you are hunting for insights, look beyond consumers to the sell side (not just what c-levels tell you).  It provides lots of complex flavor for your plan.  Peace.