Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Conundrum Zone.


twilight zone

The conundrum zoned is like the Twilight Zone, but without the do do do do music. It’s my business.

Typically my brand consulting clients are small to mid-size businesses. Businesses who understand the value of an organizing principle for messaging. They don’t quite get the organizing principle for product or experience, but messaging gets me in the door. When I tell them it will cost $17,500 for a strategy and another $17.5 for a marketing plan, I tend to lose them. So, I parry: “You can’t buy a page ad in the regional newspaper for that.”

Large companies also get the strategy as an organizing principle thing. Many at large companies get branding, beyond the logo, tagline and design templates. But they tend to think $17,500 should only cover T&E. They’re more comfortable going with Landor, Interbrand or Brand Union – and paying $250,000. That’s what it costs to get a team with lots of suits and eye piercings. To them, I am the $.99 store. The conundrum zone.

So what is my approach to overcome this? You are looking at it. The web, ideas shared via blogging and social, and an ongoing battery of thoughtful strategic (one-to-one) emails. My brand What’s the Idea? conveys and suggests most brands lack an idea. Lack an organizing principle. Companies large and small understand this. Now I just have to get the pricing right.

Piece. I mean peace.


THE Economist.


The U.S. Federal deficit is at its lowest level since President Obama took office. New home sales rebounded in July and consumer confidence is at a seven-month high. Best Buy just announced way higher than expected profits, attributed to consumers spending more on their homes as the housing market improves. It all sounds like great news right?

Sure, but the stock market has been in the serious shitter the last few days. So what’s up?

Big data is up. Back in the 50, 60s and 70s economists didn’t have all this data. They had a fewer economic indicators and the world was a lot more compartmentalized. There were a few kingly economists and we all listened them. It eased our minds and our understanding of things.

Today there are so many indicators that we can’t tie market reaction to symptoms. The macro excuse for the recent market plummet is “anxiety over China’s economy.” I believe that. But can someone explain it to me?

We need a hero economic czar. Someone (anyone) who can explain all this stuff. How about a writer from The Economist?

Who is the U.S.’s smarted economist today? Does anyone have a nomination?




Netflix for the Older Set.


Netflix is creating content specifically for teens and tweens, a group it feels is being underserved from a broadcast/streaming point of view. Contrarian that I am, I would go the other way. I would attempt to develop programming targeting 70 year olds and older. This is an age segment that probably indexes low for Netflix streaming service and a big opportunity zone.  They’re a lot more sedentary, with lots of leisure time and own reasonable, albeit, fixed incomes.

I hooked my mom up with Netflix not long ago and it didn’t work. Too much tech. With her 3 remotes and low patience threshold, it was a poor experiment. But she’s 85. And she is often heard to say “There is nothing on TV.”  She has seen every episode of Mad Men.

Netflix should not forget these people — who invented the golden age of television. They should program for them, create a nice (in-home?) service package and growth subscriptions by significant numbers.



Sell hard, sell soft.


I’m always looking for consumer and marketing patterns, especially those that manifest in larger cultural happenings. I’ve written about the new health care phenomenon whereby we flip the model from treatment to prevention – the goal of the Affordable Care Act.

Today I was reading about a new or retro law enforcement program being tested in Queens and Manhattan, moving away from “enforcement” to “prevention.”  Officers are asked to walk the beat more, spending more time talking to people in the community, learning about hot spots, pressure points, personalities and flow – hopefully before bad stuff happens. It’s similar to the healthcare model and I’m sure it will work. There will always be a need for enforcement as there will always be a need for treatment, but a few ounces of prevention — listening and learning — can go a long way.

This got me wondering about selling. Can “hard sell” be allied with treatment and enforcement? The hard sell approach is about getting someone to do something they don’t want to do. With immediacy. Ding dong. Ring, ring. Button holing consumers on the street. Softer sell, is about preparing a consumer the time when they will be ready to buy. It works by making a positive impression. A memorable impression.

Hard sell is expected in advertising. From people, in belly-to-belly selling situations, not so much. A key to marketing is “sell hard, in soft mode.” Effectively, preventing rejection.



Context Matters.


broadway boogie woogie

Look at the picture above. It is one of the most famous paintings in the world.  To some, however, it is a simplistic primary color pattern of boxes;  childlike in its construction. To art connoisseurs it is rapture. When I saw it in art class in college I fell into the former category. Today, though no connoisseur, I tend to see its virtue. Why?


This paint by Piet Mondrian is titled “Broadway Boogie Woogie.” Now, I am able to get it. Finally, I understand the painting. My years on the planet have allowed me to see the painting with a new familiarity thanks to the title.  The title, for me, makes this painting. Setting my mind afire.

This may not sound like a branding observation; it is. Context matters. Oh does context matter.




Words to live by… not promote.


I saw a kid walking in a store yesterday wearing an athletic tee-shirt proudly displaying three words on the back: Pride, Integrity, Respect. Oh boy. Whenever I see stuff like this I get the sense that it’s a program in trouble.

When I see these kind of words in a company mission statement, my radar goes off and I suspect a historical lack of pride, integrity or respect. These value promos may be a reaction to the category, a la car dealers, lawyers or ad guys, or may be a reaction to the company itself.

Don’t get me wrong these are all great qualities. But for a business or kid it should be a given. If a company or program has a poor moral compass, it needs to be fixed “in-house.” Fixed through training, role-playing, incentives, deeds and programs. Not external communications.

Live it. Don’t post it.




All Things Purchased.


I’ve written about the brand diaspora as it relates to Microsoft. Diaspora meaning “the spread or dissemination of something originally confined to a local, homogeneous group, as a language or cultural institution.” It’s a topic about which a very boring branding book could be written.

It will be very interesting to see how Amazon handles branding as it continues to take over the retail world. On Long Island, 52 A&P stores are being sold or closed. Wal-Mart earning have slowed, only being kept positive by international sales. Online commerce accounts for a growing portion of all things purchased and it’s not slowing down. Ask real estate sales people – count the brown paper covered windows in local strip malls.

En masse, retail is changing — and the winner is and will continue to be Amazon. Amazon is getting into the industrial distribution business. Hear that MSC Direct? Hear that Grainger? Do you think Mr. Bezos is not thinking about food distribution logistics? And ways to make locally sourced food products cheaper to purchase and deliver?

The future is not now. But one can see it in blurry focus…and Amazon will def be at its center. Plan ahead defenders.



Straight Outta Amazon!


When your corporate culture and work practices are skewered on the front page of The New York Times, you have two paths forward: respond defensively or not al all. Jeff Bezos and Jay Carney opted to respond. With a tail lowered a few degrees, Mr.Bezos smartly wrote his employees telling them the characterization of his company as a harsh place to work was, in his mind, inaccurate. And in some of the cases cited in the article, very un-Amazonian. Anyone, said he, who feels they have been wronged should “write me directly.” He also suggested, harsh working conditions and lack of empathy will not be tolerated. Mr. Carney brought this internal memo to the NYT and public. Those mea culpas out of the way he went on to say the story was inaccurate.

The second approach would have been to do nothing. Nothing externally. That’s the approach I would have taken. It’s a big company. Nasty happens. Hard work happens. Has anyone ever worked at an ad agency? Doh! Bad managers are just like bad people, they exist.

By going public, extending the news cycle another day, the NYT ended up gathering more stories to publish. Women Bill Cosby raped began “coming out” when the crimes became topical. Hard work at Amazon is not a crime. Slashing a percentage of workers each year is not a crime – it’s Jack Welchian.

I suspect Jay Carney counselled Mr. Bezos to lay low and he did not abide. Or, it could have been the other way. Either way it was a learning moment. Either way Amazon will rule the world (silly drone idea aside) in 10 years.

Peace be up on (not “upon”) you. (Saw Straight Outta Compton last night. Crazy, crazy great movie!)


5 Hour Energy. When Extra Strength Kills.


I was listening to the radio yesterday and heard a spot for 5 Hour Energy Extra Strength. Say what??? This is a business mistake caused by a branding mistake. 5 Hour Energy is already perceived as extra strength. Hell, it’s in the name. 5 hour Energy was a category-busting product in one of the fastest growing beverage areas around, according Beverage Digest. Sure you can improve the flavor and add new citrus punches and the like but by introducing extra strength it neuters the regular brand.

This is not to say product management shouldn’t have been looking for ways to expand sales, they should. Just not at the expense of the master brand. They would have been better off launching a newly named, newly formulated product. Not, though, like Monster who has 30 +brands.

There’s pushing the envelope and ripping her open. I believe Extra Strength is a case of the latter.