Yearly Archives: 2014

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.

How the word brand hurts my business.


I consult with a lot of companies, especially start-ups and those in emerging markets, that have a hard time articulating their Is-Does: What a brand Is and what it Does.   The reality is, I have a hard time with the Is-Does in my own humble practice.  My logo says I’m a “brand consultancy.”  Everyone knows what a consultancy is but when the word brand is added, understanding goes out the window.   

Marketing insiders and those in the branding business know what I mean, but they’re not the target. (Not unless I’m looking to get hired or freelance.) Most of my customers are marketers.  And most marketers don’t wake up every day sweating a hostile business environment saying “I need to invest a few thousand dollars in brand consultation.” They might say “I need some sales,” or “I wish I understood why my customers are leaving,” or “Are there segments I am overlooking?”

The word these people understand is strategy. Slap the word brand next to it and it loses meaning – losing the ability to answer the aforementioned questions. (My explanation of brand planning and the brand strategy rigor clears up the misunderstanding, but at face value, contextually, the business value is not obvious.) 

Were I to position myself as a marketing consultant rather than a brand consultant, I would reduce any Is-Does issues. I, too, have an Is-Does issue. Stay tuned for the deconstruction of the problem and the solution. Peace.

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 planning piece once a year, lest I forget.) 

Doing Social Media Right


When talking about social media programs to clients I tell them “be interested in what your customers are  interested in.”  Of course, these interests have to align with their brand strategy (1 claim, 3 planks). Yesterday I was looking at some Instagram photos of Love Grace cold pressed juices and admired how they pointed to a blogger sharing a number of yoga poses.  I haven’t written a brand strat for Love Grace, but feel what they are doing. And I’m sensing the neighborhood they’re living in. 

When a company owns a space, owns an idea in the customer’s mind, and they choose to not always sell product, customers relax around them.  This constant need to sell reminds me of going to a party and talking to a car salesman who is always “on.”

I’ve been trying to get close to PC Richard and Sons, a huge retailer in NY, who knows a thing about selling.  They have a marketing dept. and a dedicated social media group. They’ve even hired a social media agency, I suspect. But they don’t have a visible brand strategy they follow when it comes to social. Their’s is a tactics-palooza plan. Unlike Love Grace, PC Richards & Sons talks about promo, price and service. That’s not a plan. That’s the category.

If you understand what your customers care about and use social media to prove you also care about those things – and if those things put deposits in your brand bank, you are using social the correct way. Peace.

Brand Planks


Brand planks are business-building supports for the brand claim. (A brand strategy contains one claim, three supports.) With a brand claim in hand, in order for it to become real, remembered and practiced it needs to be proved. All claim and no proof is what befalls most poor marketing and advertising programs today. That’s where the planks come in. Combined, the 3 planks create an impenetrable barrier for brand success.

You can do all the quantitative research in the world to find out what consumers want in your product or service — but changing your business to deliver those things does not translate into success.   This is a perspective difference between a marketing strategy and a brand strategy. The brand strategy also factors in what the company is good at and famous for.

Brand planks don’t always fall into nice little containers either.  They can be features, benefits, qualities, behaviors, or functions. For an all-natural cookie, I once used “moisture” as a plank.  For a health system “community integration.”  For a commercial maintenance company “preemptive.”  

When I talk with clients about brand plan as an organizing principle, the claim gets all the glory but the planks do the work. Peace.


Probe and Listen in the C-Suite.


I use a brand planning rigor called the 24 Questions.  It help me understand business fundamentals or lack thereof. Sales, unit sales, sales by channel, purchase process and lots of other things are covered. It helps inform the brand plan work – the work that is a little more positioning focused. More emotional.

Reading about new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella got me thinking about what I would do on my first day on the job as a CEO.  My guess is I would probably meet with my top c-suite officers and have them topline for me what they were most excited and concerned about related to current operations. As a good CEO, this would be all probe and all listen. If these meetings were 30-45 minutes, I’m sure only the important stuff would come out.

Typically in my role as a brand planner I do the same thing; but I don’t always meet with all the c-level execs. So it’s not a 360 degree view then, is it?  We learn every day.  This is my learning for February 7, 2014. Peace. 

Off to Whiteface. A miraculous place. Wish me freshies.