Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Ins and Outs of Consulting.


Lots of consultants write about the discovery process in their proposals. The part of the assignment when one gathers lots of information. Discovery looks slightly different from one consultant practice to the next, yet it’s all about interviews, research, data gathering, and deep study. Let’s just say there are a lot more “ins” than “outs” going on in discovery.

I use a stock pot metaphor in describing discovery: fill the stock pot us with lots of ingredients.

The real work, the “money shot” if you will, takes place when the consultant has to reveal the “outs” — the important stuff that needs to be revealed, addressed and acted upon. This is the point where the discovery is boiled down and decisions are made as to what not to act upon. What not to change. What not to highlight.  I show a slide in my brand strategy presentation of a glass bowl filled with fruit cocktail. The Fruit Cocktail Affect happens when too many things turn into one thing. In the case of this sugary concoction, the grape tastes like the cherry tastes like the pear tastes like the peach.

Most consultants do discovery; select your consultant based upon the key findings…the most important outs. Peace.


Beats This.



There is a talk at Apple about including the Beats Music Service in the new iOS operating system. Nice! Beats was always a cool brand and now getting cooler with some smart and big boy advertising by tastemakers. The problem is, the people at Apple are thinking of subsuming Beats Music (a streaming service) under the iTunes brand. Oops. iTunes is growing some gray whiskers while the Beats brand is really coming into its own. The powers at Apple (Dr. Dre, being one) agree to keep the Beats brand on the headphone business – or so reports The New York Times today – but this guy thinks Beats should take over all of Apple’s music offering. It’s a great name, a wonderful descriptor of product, and it celebrates music.

iTunes should certainly be kept alive somehow in the Apple brand arsenal but 2015 just might be the year for a breakout of Beats — soon to be one of the biggest global brands extant. Fell me? Or is that feel me? Peace.


Culture Versus/And Strategy.


I read a quote this morning attributed to the denizens of Silicon Valley “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” As someone who spent many of his early years studying anthropology and also who makes a living today studying and perfecting strategy and its talons, I take issue.

Nothing easts strategy for breakfast. And I’m a big culture guy. Whenever employees talk about company culture 9 out of 10 times they are inarticulate. “We’re an entrepreneurial culture.” “We foster a culture of innovative.” Meh. Sure, employees will tell illustrative stories, usually resulting in a cool product or service or founder feat, but that’s not culture. Beer Fridays, a month off to do your own project, charity Monday – not culture.

ruth benedict

Great American anthropologist Ruth Benedict taught us no single trait of personality, art, language or culture exists in isolation. They all work together. In American business, in start-up business, these behavioral elements are typically borrowed, repurposed, stolen (thanks Faris Yakob), or combined into what Silicon Valley companies call culture. Double meh. A huge oversimplification.

A strategy to “accomplish something” is what’s for breakfast. Also lunch and dinner. For me strategy begets culture. Together strategy and culture are powerful allies. The most powerful of allies. Apart, not so much.



People as Brands.


I am not a brand. Kim Kardashian is not a brand. People are not brands yet we hear this type of cheese every day in our culture. (Maybe Kim is, Microsoft Word spell checks her last name.)  Brands can be managed. They can be accountable. Even bespoke brands. But people? People can’t be managed. Too many moving parts. Oh and while we’re at it, you can befriend a person, you can’t be a friend with a brand.

Okay back to work. Peace!


Facebook’s Next Breakthrough.


Facebook’s monetization model is a lot like TV’s, but without the professional content. It is a content sharing platform the lion’s share of which is consumer-generated — friends sharing with friends and acquaintances. It’s not professionally created and that’s the allure. Like TV, Facebook makes money selling ads, interspersed with the content.

When Facebook was young we had no other way to keep in touch with lots of far-flung friends; today we have many ways, lots of apps.  And let’s face it, the content on Facebook is not that great. Add to the equation the fact that marketers are spamming us on Facebook and the pool  becomes even more brackish.

Facebook encourages marketers to be more meaningful and stimulating with their content while it continues to fine-tune the algorithm and targeting hoping to create greater ad investment returns.  It is not going to delay the wear out factor and Facebook knows it. They will have to amp up the quality of content so look for them to start investing in original content creation. It won’t be like Amazon or Netflix originals…it will be more interactive and communal. But it’s coming.

I wouldn’t be surprised if its sole sponsored to begin with. Stay tuned. Peace.


Data Driven


More and more in my brand planning practice I hear myself talking about data as a brand asset. Or at least a brand opportunity. In K12 education, data-driven assessment is a big driver of improved teaching and learning. In healthcare, measuring outcomes and return-to-function and tying those measures to treatment protocols is a big driver of the improvement goals of the Affordable Care Act.  And in marketing itself, there are few discussions about expenditures and tactics that don’t include reference to ROI data.

Many recommendations I make to companies these days include hiring a data nerd –even if only a part-timer. Outbound, data is proof. (Readers know my brand planning mantra of “claim and proof.”) But inbound data is all about operations. Performance. Ideation. And creativity.

We are in a data driven world, we marketers. Data is no longer the provenance of analysts; it is for, and about, everybody. You needn’t make data your friend but you should certainly become acquainted with it, embrace it and use a healthy dose in your day job. Peace.


The Launching Pad for Marketing Buildables.


Some of my best brand strategy work has been done when asked to do something else. I’ve been hired to rebuild a website for a small commercial company, to fix a floundering relationship between client and agency, and to create a content marketing strategy for a trillion dollar financial institution. Had I told them I was a brand planner “here to fix your brand,” they would have thought me a vacuum cleaner salesman. Rather, they had a need and I held that need up first and foremost — addressing the “buildable.”

Buildables are how modern day agencies are paid. Rare is the day that strategy is a line item on an invoice. (It’s getting better, but not close to the rule.)

So with an eye on the buildable, I go to work. On a brief. Most pop advertising and marketing theory today suggests using a short brief. Not me. I like to go all on the brand strategy. The idea from the brief is short and focused, yet the journey to the idea is rich. Yesterday I presented a two word brand idea. Can you imagine? 20 +interviews, thousands of words and stories in the strategy stock pot, lots of IP and category learning over the years and a 2 word brand strategy? (It was supported by 3 planks and lots of proof.) Audacious? Hardly.

It fit. It organized. It created a launching pad for buildables. Peace.

Optimism and Pessimism.


I ask a lot of questions. It’s the trait of a brand planner. Questions are always about learning but when all is said and done they resolve into one of two types of strategy: optimistic or pessimistic. Back in the day working in the tech sector there was an acronym FUD which stood for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. It drove strategy for IBM and lots of other tech companies selling hard- and software. Pessimism.

For me, positive is the grail in marketing. It may seem Pollyanna-ish but is a quicker way to the heart and mind. That said, it’s not an easy path. A strategy for a home security system might seem most effective when the grim reaper is lurking in the bushes. Conversely, a smiling sleeping face on the pillow doesn’t stand out and it’s poor tradecraft. Positive is hard (unless you’re Corona or a travel marketer.)

For pessimism we have cops shows, thriller novels and news radio. Pessimism is all over the place. “Fail at school and get a bad job.” “Smoke cigarettes, hack up a lung.” “Work in construction, sue the city.”

I’m no Maslow but I think it’s safe to say brand planners who spend time in positive land are more apt to garner favor and loyalty with consumers then are their negative-focused counterpart. So wash your hands and go be positive. Peace (not war).


Stim and the Internal Creative Department.


I was director of marketing at a company with a fairly substantial in-house creative group. We had an animator, two web developers, an application nerd, copywriter, junior art director and creative dept. manager who was a designer by trade.

Until I had written the brand brief we just chugged along doing project work, one-offs as had been done before my arrival. Nothing big was to be worked on until the brand brief was finished.

I briefed the in-house team once we were ready and asked them to start off by cracking the code on an ad campaign – thinking that was an easy way to get some ideas. Who doesn’t know how to make ads? With the right brief and a strong strategic idea, the team should be ready to nail it…and nail it quickly.

Ooofahhh. What a mistaken expectation that was!  They were like deer in headlights. Apparently they’d never seen a brief before. They may have understood what a campaign was but couldn’t wrap their heads around a brand strategy. I guess not every place labeled “creative” can do agency work.

“Let’s get out of the building,” I said. Let’s go watch sellers sell and buyers buy. Let’s hear consumer language, let’s share and talk and play act. The creative dept. manager, looked at me like a dog looks at you when you put the ball behind your back. Out of the building?

A few plants, a ping-pong table, a title or two, and some fun lampshades do not a creative team make.  Peace.



UCONN. All proof no idea.


Advertising is a funny thing. It’s hard to do well. Many ads contain great copy yet support wan ideas. Others possess a neat idea but surround it with blather. Today I stopped to read a UCONN ad in The New York Times with some great copy points. Great proof points. To wit:

  • Investing $3.6 billion to create breakthrough in areas such as additive manufacturing, genomic medicine, and cybersecurity.
  • Hiring 300 faculty who will advance the fields of cognitive science and creativity, pursue scholarship in law and human rights, and develop new areas of intellectual property.
  • Recruiting 6,500 additional students who will lead their generation in addressing the most important challenges of our time: sustainability, global heath, and social justice.

How can you argue that UCONN is doing smart, cool stuff? You can’t.

But the ad headline “Dear UCON, Thank you. Sincerely, The Future.”, dropped out of a blue background of celestial stars and universe laid an egg. The tagline “Innovation. Unleashed.” didn’t help.

This ad falls under the great proof, no idea category. And any glimmer of an idea (Reports from the future?) was hidden behind lazy execution. No brand planner watching over this work. Brand planners find the proof. Array the proof. Demonstrate the proof. They seed the idea and educate practitioners.  Bad advertising agents and clients ask for the proof to be put in a big old bucket and tossed hither and thither. Peace.