Monthly Archives: February 2014

Sears Spanish Inquisition



“All Spanish all the time” is the business strategy I have recommended to Sears in this blog a number of times. Once again, quarterly earnings are out for the Sears Holding Company (owner of Kmart) showing it is hemorrhaging money. You can’t continue to lose a billion plus a year and stay a viable business (listening Blackberry?).

Think about the country. Think about the state of retailing…with more and more sales conducted online and delivered via the mail and package carriers. Where does this leave Sears? And all retailers, for that matter.  In need of bold moves. All Spanish speaking today, is a first-mover strategy. And frankly a no-brainer. If it doesn’t happen in 2014 it will happen at some point. If not Sears or Kmart, someone. The purchasing power of Spanish speaking Americans is too great. The growth rate of this segment of the pop. too great. 

Sure stores will have to close. But the idea is solid. The market is solid and the move will have unexpected positive impact not only on the expense side of the ledge, but also the growth side…with new opportunities for other services hitting this massive part of the economy.

Edward S. Lampert, CEO, pull that Band Aid off right now. I smell a Fortune (cover) in it for you. Peace.   

Posters Get Short End.


There’s a neat media newsletter service I’ve used a number of times in marcom plans called SmartBriefs.  It’s an aggregator of articles, sorted by topic, sent to subscriber email boxes.  It is a great one-stop free-shop. One such newsletter I subscribe to deals with social media.  The ironic thing about this one is that very few of the articles it highlights points to actual social media posts, meaning blogs.  They are mostly items from USA Today, Washington Post, WSJ, Adweek, etc.  They hit the occasional Mashable piece but do not do a good job or finding true web Posters. Posters are original content creators and bloggers whose love of the topic goes way beyond a job.

Posters may be good writers or bad and may not have made it through journalism school, but they are the backbone of the web. As a brand planner, I’m always on the lookout for big time posters in the categories I study.  They engender loyalty and lots of comments. They are analytical and love to share the goodness that is their area or interest.

Poster beget Pasters (curators and info sharers), ergo community.   

I’d love to see an aggregator service that only focused on blogs. Craft economy people in the woodworking business like the Wood Whisperer. Melting Mama for the overweight and obese. Boogie2988 for gamers.  Kandee Johnson for the young fashion conscious. Emo Girl. There are thousands of them out there.  An occasional snark would be fine too, but the more positive the better.

This is the future of the web. Where there is avoid there is an opportunity.  Maybe SmartBrief will start one. Peace.


Thoughts on Purchase Vs. Rent.


disney image

The jury’s still out on the age old conundrum should I buy or should I rent.  Disney’s announcement yesterday that they will sell digital copies of their movies when added to recent statistics showing higher growth rate of digital movie purchases (compared to rentals) suggests a directional winner. But the digital thing adds to the texture of this divide.  Where does one store the digits?  In the home? On a device or end point? Or, in the cloud? And if the latter, is it really owned? Because it takes plumbing to get to it.

Music on ipods and iphones are clearly purchased, even though they are in the cloud and on the device. Netflix is an aggregator and renter, with plumbing required to access the assets. Books on a Kindle are purchased and device bound. They become part of a family’s digital library, bought one volume at a time. The ability to share digital books, unlike paper books, is harder but not impossible. (Stay tuned.) I believe the purchase model will win out over the rented model. I believe the cloud will continue on as a big thing but so will end-point and device storage. Each home will have a Teraflop or beyond to hold for its pictures, home vids, purchased movies and medical records. The back-up and syncing businesses will also be quite viable. Digital assets will be contested in divorce – another thing for lawyers to study.

How will all this affect marketing and branding? Digital things are harder to classify, find and remember. Less visual muscle memory. Less context. Branding in the digital world will become more important but way harder to do. The future. Peace.   

A Rant About Authenticity.


Brands are authentic. It’s the people who manage them who are not. So let’s stop trying to find the “authenticity” for goodness sake.  (It’s like all those people talking about ROI. Guess what? They aren’t getting any.)

I suspect the reason the word authentic has been used and abused (Walt Clyde Frasier) to excess is because of social media — where anyone and her cousin are allowed to post on behalf of brands; mostly, tyro community managers fresh out of school with dexterous social fingers. (Interview question: “How many Facebook friends do you have?”). If social media were medicine, pre-meds students would be treating patients and everyone would be coughing and wheezing. Ever hear of an inauthentic doctor?

I’m not going all old school on you or anti-digital native; there are a number of smart young community managers out there learning their craft on the job and applying thoughtful analytics to social media. But the winners understand brand strategy, not just tactics.  And you won’t find them spouting off about authenticity.  They are more likely to be talking about specific expressions of brand fundies (1 idea 3 planks), things the brand is good at and things consumers want. 

Social media is an important component of the marketing mix; never more so. So let’s use it correctly and it will lift the craft.


Birth of a Strategic Tweet.


Every once and a while I send a Tweet based upon something I’ve read and reacted to, that excites me.  (A blind squirrel…) As it rolls of the keys it just feels right. Almost poetic. Not to poets but to those in the brand business.  Here’s one such:

“Brand ideals” cobbled together by a design firm are not brand strategy.

Let’s parse the statement. “Brand ideals” are real things. Understandable things.  And though the words may be a little unfamiliar, the meaning makes sense. The problem is ,there may be a number of brand ideals. (In the lobby of Adecco’s US headquarters I once noted its brand ideals on a wall. Fifty of them. Professionalism, honesty…you get the idea.

The word “cobbled” is a nice word, suggesting put together with some craftsmanship…but not that much. Not like engineered. Cobbled might connote put together with tacks and a few swift strokes.   

A “design firm” is a specific organization. Artists, creators, some thinkers arrayed in colorful offices, wearing fashionably unfashionable clothes. An artful charm pervades a design firm. McKinsey doesn’t come to mind, but design firms with names like Frog and Idea do offer panache.  

And “not a brand strategy” is, contextually, the mother lode. Very few can succinctly articulate what a brand strategy is. Many can define brand. Few can define a branding. Fewer still brand strategy.  And when people try the halls fill with marko-babble.  Stuff like “brand ideals.” And here we come full circle.

This tweet, these 12 words, captures attention, takes a little swipe at a big segment of the branding market and highlights a shared information problem in brand planning – the lack of understanding. The implication of the tweet is a not-too-professorial suggestion that the tweeter has the answer. Back pat, back pat.  Peace.

Insights are Money.


curt cobain

I’ve been watching a number of the Google Hangouts sponsored by the Planning Salon (my peeps) and find them all quite interesting. There seems to be a lot of career churn in brand planning as evidenced by the fact that a number of the planners interviewed now have new jobs. Another trend is that smart planners tend to be moving client-side.

Why is that you say? “An insight is worth a thousand ads.” 

Campaigns come and go…a powerful brand strategy is indelible is my business mantra. And I love campaigns. But the fact is, campaigns are often creative envelopes for strategy — and can become more important than the strategy. (At least to agencies.) And where do brand strategies comes from? Insights.

I think it’s a little ironic that in my brand planning battery of questions for senior executives the word “insight” does not appear once.  I’ma (sic) have to change that.

If money is the root of all evil, the proper mining and use of insights is the nirvana of marketing. (Where were you when Kurt died? I was a Midas Muffler.)  Insights are da monies.

Peace in the Ukraine.                                     


Here’s WhatsApp.



What does Fotchbook’s intended purchase of WhatsApp tell you about the state of online media?  A $16 billion dollar purchase, BTW. It tells me social networking is alive and well (that’s where the money’s coming from) but it also points to the big growth of messaging. And what is messaging? It is a more private version of communicating. The privacy “issue” is not only a political warm potato, it’s a key behavioral care-about.

Social networking has been growing like a dookie until recently but, lately, cool messaging apps (w/ pics, etc.) are the countervailing nemesis. Social networks are how you make new friends and extend your reach of friends. Messaging is how you keep them. Facebook, I suspect, is seeing less daily traffic on a per person basis and is asking where the minutes are going. (Did I just say minutes?) Well, they are going to chat. Ergo 16 big candles are going to WhatApp to help stem traffic loss.

Another thing I love about WhatsApp is the $1.00 a year usage fee. It is a kind of micro transaction I’ve been anticipating for years and one that will take hold of the web in an accelerating fashion. 

So here’s the implication, care about privacy. Care about adding value to friendships. And care about making a little money by charging a little at scale. Peace. 


Coca-Cola needs healthier-for-you sales.



Sales of the Coca-Cola Company dropped 3.6% this quarter. It seems the tide has turned.  The global sugar water growth that offset the diminished appetite for Coke in the U.S. has brought Coke’s growth back to earth. Pepsi saw this sales ding years ago. Coke has been getting into the healthier-for-you businesses for a while now but it looks as if they must really redouble their efforts. Healthier-for-you is the future.    

Big data will help Coke figure out where lost sales are going. Big data, used by CMS (Center for Medicare Services), will also show where unhealthy eating and drinking habits are happening. And by sharing this information with doctors and insurance companies it will pave the way for incentives for consumers to eat better. Much the way insurance costs go up for smokers. Gonna happen.

When you are Coke and your sales are off 3.6%, you need to “refresh” your thinking. (I smell a cold-pressed juice purchase in the near future.)

Pepsi is holding its own by dialing up salty snacks. What’s the opposite of healthier-for-you?

Now is the time. There should be and will be a marketing investment shake up in Atlanta. And “happiness,” the Wieden+Kennedy campaign?  Not likely to make it in its current form — not in this climate.


What a brand is not.


So you have a company or product. You have a name. You have a logo. You have some design parameters. Packaging. You may even have a marketing person or an agency. But do you have a brand? Most would say yes, I say until you have an organizing principle that brings together what the “company is good at” and what “consumers want,” you really don’t have a brand. The organizing principle to which I refer is a brand strategy. It must be built upon truth, aspiration and above all it must be sinewy. That’s the hardest part. A brand strategy must not be a big expensive blob boasting something for everyone.  

If you would like to see a sample or two, please let me know. Steve at whatstheidea. Everyone needs a plan. Peace. 

Lessons from the Crypt.


Back in 2006 while I was writing the brand strategy for, there was an 18 million user upstart cutting its teeth called Facebook. You had to be a college kid to have an account back then. Ish. They brilliantly referred to the property as a “social network.”

Zude on the other hand was not a social network. It was a webpage building tool. Our CTO might have called it an “authoring tool” to make is sound more technical. The genius of Zude was in its ability to let uses drag and drop images, text, video and other web objects onto a blank white page and create a web page. No HTML coding required. If you could type and drag and drop, I used to say, you could create your own website.

The biggest problem with Zude was our company’s Facebook envy.  The CTO wanted to be a social network; it was the haps.  It was about friending, and community and growth. So we lost our positioning way and started to build in clunky Facebook-like functionality.  The brand strategy “Zude takes web development to the people,” which was built from the product’s greatest strength, was cast aside due to MySpace and Facebook envy. And we were afloat amidst the tides, currents and winds of a different business model.  

I’m a big boy.  I can change strategy when directed.  But just because you call a goat a horse, doesn’t make it ride-able.  Lessons from the crypt. Peace.