Yearly Archives: 2014

Moving consumers closer to a sale/


There’s an old marketing axiom that one must look at a product’s most committed customers to help determine preference for a sale. Researchers suggest looking at the top box in quantitative studies. Consumers who agree “completely” are typically the best customers. When we know what our most committed customers care about, the thinking goes, we can package those things in ways that convince others to become loyal customers. Sadly, this is flawed logic. Not everyone can go gaga over a product. Customers who aren’t obsessed require a different approach.

I’ve talked a lot lately about “learning vs. selling.” For customers not particularly committed to your product, what the planner needs to know is what learning will move them closer to a sale. “If safety is most important to you when buying a car, will titanium reinforced doors make you more likely to buy” kind of stuff.

We need to understand what consumers don’t know about our product or service that will get them to consider or buy – and then we need to enable that learning. Peace.


A New Agency OS Suggestion.


Sorry I missed the Firestarter event for brand planner two nights ago in NYC. Doofus. Sounds like it was a cool event. The topic of interest, as reported today in Ed Cotton’s blog was the Agency Operating System. The traditional operating system is broken was the premise. (Sounds like something Marion Harper might have said in Fortune Magazine in the 60s, actually.) Anyway, as technology takes on more important things than social networking and selfies, attempting to fix education, healthcare and climate, we are beginning to see some very exciting new businesses emerge. And these businesses cannot be sold by ads alone. Or content marketing alone – the things agencies are good at. The things agencies monetize.

So the call to action at Firestarters was to look at problems differently. Deconstruct them into their parts. Understand through functional anthropology how problems might be addressed in new ways. Creative ways. The new agency OS, foreshadowed by the growing number of creative collectives out there today, needs new players: technologists, data geeks, engineers, producers and craftsmen. But which agency is going to have an Etsy department? Just as traditional agencies have TV commercial producers, the new OS need agencies need resource producers or curators. What shall be call these people? Ideas?




Brand as Verb.



Brand is the new black. Anyone and everyone in marketing talks about brands, brand strategy and brand ______ (fill-in-the-blank). I was reading a proposal for web design yesterday and the word was used copiously. I was recently reviewing creative for a brochure designed by a very “strategic” agency, whose website by word count was overloaded with the words “strategy” and “brand.” (An art and copy shop.)

Many posers today know brand as noun, not as verb.

What allows a product to be a brand (noun) is the ability to brand (verb). The ability to brand (verb) is a process by which one presents a product to the market using an organizing principle that is strategic, codified and tightly managed. The only way to assess if an agency or vendor is meeting those criteria is through a brand brief. (A What’s the Idea? brand brief resolves to 1 claim and 3 planks.) If you are managing a brand, a brief is the tool you use to guide and measure actions. You can’t do that with a style guide or color palette. “Awesome use of the color orange Success Academy.”

So, when you are working with people who toss the word brand around, make sure they are not simply polishers of the noun. Ask them if they are working off a brief.

Peace in NYC.


Data and Devices.


A couple of days ago I posted about big data and how it is a compelling force in education, healthcare and marketing. A friend of mine is a big doggie at an educational technology company called ScholarChip—they sell smart cards. Their key apps are attendance and security at K12 schools and they are making education safer. In the college and university market, there are a number of other companies looking at data, but they’re attempting to improve education quality. The analytics used in these instances are a little more intrusive but fascinating. With enough data over long periods of time, these companies will be able to track and predict student success by smart cards, log-ins and behaviors. Cool.

I’m currently consulting on a healthcare assignment and fresh off another. Data collection of healthy patient outcomes is a key to both engagements. The learning that comes from measuring health, treatment and compliance and the ability to predict healthier patient results is one intention of the Affordable Care Act. And it will transform care in America.

Data and devices are changing our landscape. These are exciting times and we need to jump on board. Peace.


Red Blooded Target.



LBT stands for living breathing target. (You were thinking lesbian, bi-, trans weren’t you?) This is a classification I use in my brand and creative briefs. It’s not particularly brilliant or anything, but it is one element of my secret sauce. Most briefs contain a target, a key insight, a prevailing attitude and a reason to believe on their way to the big idea. Mine do too. But often, in this “I want a short brief” creative atmosphere, these inputs are combined. Me? I like a living breathing target. Not a demographic descriptor, not a customer journey, not an archetype – a target that has blood pumping through his/her veins. One that feels and does. A target with a conscience. I don’t write a book, but do find by going all anthropologist on its ass it gives me a deeper think about purchase context. A deeper think, rich in importance.

So when meeting people, interviewing consumers and doing fieldwork, look past what they say and what they do, look for emotion, mannerisms and feeling. These are the things you can parley into a red blooded target.



Big Data for Life!


Big data is everywhere. The top three areas I’ve seen it taking hold are: education, healthcare and marketing. On the marketing side, IT budgets used to be the provenance of the LAN, WAN, hardware and software guys. Now that money is controlled by the marketing peeps. (What good are wires and iron, if you can’t do something smart with them?) As for education, we’re on the cusp of using data to better learn how to learn. Or teach, i.e., individualized lesson plans based upon a student’s learning style or where s/he is on the learning curve. Once we figure this out, thanks to data driven assessment and some smart pedagogy, we’re on our way.

But nowhere is big data to be more impactful than it will be in healthcare. EHRs (electronic health records) also known as ISIL, I mean, EMRs (electronic medical records), are the next big platform battle. As is the case in free enterprise societies, new technologies often develop sloppily. That is, without a clear cut winner to start, the market is like a burlap bag full of cats. In my area of NY, there are 30 electronic health records companies serving physicians, hospitals and labs – very few of which speak to one another. It’s messy. And with the Affordable Care Act facilitating the need for EHRs, the battle is only now starting to occur in earnest.

Data done well will turn all doctors into good doctors. (Question: Do you know what they call a physician with a C average who graduates med school? Answer: Doctor.)  Big data in healthcare has the ability to make healthcare in America the envy of other nations. Right now it is not. These are exciting times and when the politics wear off, we’ll start to really see some wonderful outcomes. Great docs and great data will make for great patients. And that’s a home run. Peace.



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!