Yearly Archives: 2014

The Pedagogy of Marketing.


One of the hardest jobs in the world, I suspect, is teaching special needs children. Spec Ed, insiders call it. I am no expert but I do know there are certain stimuli that get through to special needs kids. They like to touch. They like the color purple. Certain sounds and instruments are soothing. Special needs children learn better when distractions are minimized and their individual leaning sweet spot found.  This individualized learning modus extends to non-special needs children. Children learn at different paces because they are like snowflakes.

In marketing, there are some similarities. Predisposing a consumer to your product and pitch does not benefit from a cookie cutter approach. Brand planners who understand buying behavior, context and psychology have a leg up when avoiding the cookie cutter approach. This deeper understanding can give form to the organizing principle that is the brand plan (here defined as 1 Claim, 3 Support Planks). This organizing principle offers flexibility to teach consumers in different learning places, yet enough control for brand managers to stay focused.

Consumers are so overwhelmed by marketing, unsupported claims, imagery, song and marko-babble, they can’t concentrate. We need to create a distraction-less, replicable selling schemes that are indelible. With a tight brand plan we can impact product, experience, benefit set, and most importantly muscle memory. Marketing is about creating behavior or changing behavior. The pedagogy of marketing. Peace.

The Story of Uncle Carl.


I grew up in an area that produced 80% of the world’s hard shell clams.  The clams had great names like cherry stone, little necksand top neck.  To the uninformed or visitor to the Great South Bay, an opened clam was and is quite a sight. Unlike anything you’ve ever seen, a little neck has some purple and crimson on the shell, pink on the muscle, rich caramels and tans on the meat and a little pocket of black (don’t ask) –a bit like a nursery school drawing.  The clam is nestled in a cool saline broth that to some appears like what my father might have called “the doggie’s dinner.”  

uncle carlEnter Uncle Carl. A transplant to Los Angeles, Uncle Carl had two reasons to come back East. One, to visit family.  Two, to eat clams. And eat he did. Voraciously.  To watch his face, to hear the smile-affected slurp, to listen to his appraisal of each morsel (at my young age I wasn’t always sure of all the metaphors) was to know consumer love.  Without telling me I needed to try them, Uncle Carl was the hard shell clams’ best salesman. He didn’t entertain, he didn’t story tell, he didn’t need a spokesperson – he just shared the experience. Experiential marketing, modeling marketing are two of the best sales tools in the kit.  

Though hard shell clams are not that common here today on the Great South Bay, they are still among for most wonderful treasures on the planet. Treasures I may never have tried had it not been for Uncle Carl Alf. What a salesman, what a teacher. Peace.

The things we produce


.What have you produced for me lately?  That’s the question that should be asked by senior marketers of their teams, agencies, vendors and selves. What have you produced?

The extravaganza that was the Super Bowl saw lots of things produced. Ads were produced, certainly. Actors were coached, editing suites rented, musicians composed, craft trucks rolled. Millions spent. And now bills will be paid (and unpaid) for months to come – all because things were produced.  At some point, probably around budgeting time for next year’s Super Bowl, someone will ask “What sales were produced?”

Let’s list the people who might answer that question with “Not my job.” The list will be pretty lengthy. It wasn’t long ago that the average tenure of a CMO was 18 months. Why is that?  Because it is the CMO’s job to produce sales. The CMO and the CEO.

The marketing business today produces lots of things – at the hands of many, many people. Isn’t it time CMOs asked and answered the question “Do the things we produce, produce sales?” Peace.

Dogging it.


Venables Bell and Partners, an ad agency I admire, pooped the bed last night with a spot produced for Audi that combined oversized Doberman Pincer heads on Chihuahua bodies.  I once wrote a piece for Adweek as a kid (never sent in) suggesting that every element of an ad should sell the product. Even deconstructed elements. The room in which I watched the game last night was loud during this dog spot so I have no idea what the spot was about.  But I can tell you. visually, the little/big dogs skeeved me out. The Lotto guy with the little body and big head from a couple of years ago (Little bit of luck) was similarly retching but at least his voice and the story made it a little easier to bear. Compare the Audi spot to the Kia spot by David and Goliath with the dude from Matrix. Even with the sound off, I came away associating luxury with that particular Kia model. An unexpected association. 

Ugly dogs or luxuary car?  Which value prop would you like America to take away. Xactly. Peace.

Super Bowl Ad Strategy Awards.


Introducing the First Annual What’s the Idea? Super Bowl Ad Strategy Contest. There will be prizes (not really), gifts, kudos and giggles. Here’s how it will work. The day after the Super Bowl, please write me ( and tell me your two favorite TV spots from the game.  

If you can’t remember the brand, just describe the spot. “You know, the one with the guy who jumped off the cliff with the helmet cam and landed in a kids birthday party.”   But the kicker for this competition is — in your email, please include what you believe the ad strategy to be. Something like “Sell more Planters peanuts by positioning them as healthier than potato chips.” Or “Budweiser tastes better because Clydesdales, are nice to puppies.”  That sort of thing.

The person who comes closest to outlining a real and compelling selling strategy wins. It may just be a congratulatory blog post, it may be a bag of Doritos – depends on my winnings in the pool. Go Hawks. Peace!    

Full Duplex Marketing.


There was a great piece in Contagious about how ad agencies are still overly concerned with the money maker that is outbound messaging. The article supports my boiled down thesis that “Branding is about claim and proof. Proof and deeds. Deeds and experiences. Strategically organized and soundly managed.”

The article’s writer Laurence Green, founding partner of 101 London, believes that outbound alone is old school and slowly being replaced by a more complete, informed, productized and bidirectional selling rigor; one where technology, media, product and creative come together to make people buy more, for more, more times.

One point in the article with which I might take issue is that the strategist and the coders should  play together for the optimal output. I need to think about this one. Digital strategist perhaps, but I’m not so sure about brand strategist. I’m not sure coders need more than the brand plan to mash up their digits. But hey, this is pioneer stuff and smart shops, whose buildables are steeped in full duplex marketing are still learning. Exciting stuff. Peace. 


Boil This!


The secret sauce of the brand planner is their ability to take all the information at hand and boil it down into a compelling argument that leads to a sale…or predisition to a sale. (We are not always buying, you see.)

I was with a bunch of IT guys yesterday and the technical fur was flying. Back in the day it would have been enough to make me feel light-header and inadequate. Yesterday it reminded me of times at Bell Labs and AT&T’s Microelectronics listening to English-as-a-second-language engineers talk technical gibberish (to me) about their digital signaling processors. My job at the time was to be polite and make a good ad. Actually, be polite and come home with a strategy to give to creative people to make a good ad. These trips, it turns out, are where I cut my planning teeth.

Information gathering is an art, but taking that “stock pot” of information and boiling it down to insights, then a single selling argument is da monies. Packaging that argument with a little evocative poetry is the Richard Sherman monies.  Thank you AT&T Microelectronics. Peace.

Brand Planning Technique.


Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy an online educational video tutoring site, began his business by uploading math instruction videos to YouTube. Part of his secret sauce was making math instruction interesting.  If instruction lacks vocal intonation (drone, drone) it didn’t connect.  Been there.  If it was overly flourished, same thing. His approach, like that of other good teachers, was to be in the middle. Connect. Watch what students tuned in to and package that using good pedagogy.

As a brand planner, I sometimes go into situations where the topic is less than exciting.  Healthcare and banking come to mind. When interviewing SMEs (subject matter experts) or consumers using Salman’s approach is important. The interviewer needs to show interest; not academic interest but true category interest.  The interviewer needs to find ways to bring the subject to life. To be engaged and earn trust. Personal stories are a good way to prime the pump. Hearing them. Telling them.  Some will say interrupting people when they talk is not polite, however in this case it shows energy and interest. (Do it carefully however.)

Be a good listener, a careful watcher of body language, and most of all be human. React, respond, find emotional attachments. Joy and happy endings are also nice, though may not in all cases be appropriate.

Once again, good teaching and learning practices come into play in brand planning. Peace.

One Voice for Social Media


Social media is still primarily a tactical rather than strategic effort within companies. Years ago while at a meeting and doing introductions a young social media maven offered, “Hi I’m Rebecca, I work at Tribal DDB and I teach clients how to use Facebook.”  You just remember this stuff.

This Technorati link shares some interesting data points on social media and confirms my strategy vs. tactical point.  Only 51% of company social media programs are managed out of the marketing department. And let’s face it, many marketing departments are tactically rather than strategically focused themselves.  Sure they keep an eye on sales, but mostly they measure acquisition tools, traffic, engagement and, lately, activation.  The strategies driving these things, the value-based claims, are not measured. There is also some data on top three social media careabouts for the coming year, none of which are strategic – even though they are ironically identified as “strategic objectives.” 

Measuring awareness of the advertising line “Hope Lives Here” is not nearly as important as measuring attitudes towards “physician who know the latest protocol.”

With a plan, social media can soar. With a plan social media can prime the attitude pump. With a plan, not only the 51%, but all others, can be a chorus of harmonious business-building voices. Peace.

Logos Aren’t Brands.


The Altimeter Group just rebranded according to Charlene Li, CEO. I’ve never met Ms. Li, but did do an analysts briefing with her (while she was in China) during my Zude start-up days. Influential doesn’t even begin to describe Ms. Li’s role in the technology business. She’s the Ester Dyson of the new millennium. That said, Ms. Li has fallen into the trap many have when referring to branding, or in this case, rebranding. Brands are not style and make-up. Not logo design and color. Brands are organizing principles anchored to an idea. A customer facing idea.

The Altimeter Group has altered its logo, PPT, newsletter format and, soon, will redesign its web site — but I’m not feeling a brand idea or brand strategy.  Disruption, social leadership and change are three words to describe the sandbox Altimeter plays in. And as for the Is of the Is-Does, they are definitely analysts. But I’m not seeing a strategy.

Ms. Li and team have been leaders in sharing information on social business strategies. And it is thought provoking, smart, transformative work. However, treating branding with color and design and not a strategy component is like saying social business redesign can take place by adding some Twitter, content managers, Yammer and a video production studio.

Hey Altimeter, What’s the Idea?