Monthly Archives: September 2015

Master and Commandee.


Last night at Google Firestarters, Chet Gulland, head of strategy at Droga5 NY, mentioned “1 idea, 50 briefs.” For another Droga brand he spoke of 30 briefs. (The topic of the event, as you might imagine, was the brief.) The brief is what keeps agency planning departments in business. Each project should have a brief. It should outline the task, opportunity, problem and provide a solution spark. The more insightful and powerful these briefs, the better the work…so goes the logic.

An undercurrent at Firestarter and an undercurrent about briefs in general (check out this exceptional video) is that briefs are better seen not heard. Shorter is better. Problem-focus is important. Agile and open are also key.  One panelist, in fact, suggested no brief is the best brief – but he was from a product development/innovation company.

I completely agree with Mr. Gulland though I might word it a little differently. One brand brief, 50 creative briefs. At What’s The Idea?, the idea (claim) is the brand strategy. It is supported by 3 proof planks. Any creative brief, developed by any cohort, must be on idea. The actions, experiences and programs used to generate sales, guided by individual creative briefs, should all celebrate the idea (claim) and support one of the proof planks. Claim and proof.

The brand brief and the many creative briefs it sires will keep planners busy for years to come.

Thanks to Google, Ben Malbon and Abigail Posner for another wonderful event. Eliza Esquivel of Mondelez was exceptional too.





Brand Strategy Licensing Fees.


I was talking to a colleague last week, a newly minted consultant, who asked my opinion on licensing brand strategy.  I suggested once a brand strategy is sold, it makes sense to put an annual license fee on the strategy, for as long as the company uses it. A nominal amount. Rather than simply sending an invoice each year, the fee should come with value. And that value is an open-ended offer to the client to share work with me for validation – so they know it’s on strategy. The fee would also cover an annual refresher or training course on the brand strategy – one which new employees or agencies should attend.

One of my biggest regrets with What’s The Idea? is that I often finish a brand strategy then sail into the sunset; leaving the brand and marketing managers to deal with compliance. At mid-size, small and start-up companies marketing directors typically don’t have these skills.

My friends at Brandtuitive are good at this. They make sure training is part of their engagement. The notion of making a company pay a recurring annual fee for training and compliance, albeit a small one, makes lots of sense. But is has to be more about compliance than a license of the idea. (And remember “Campaigns come and go, a powerful brand strategy is indelible.”)



Marketing Buildables and Strategy.


I’m guessing the percentage of global marketing budgets spent on strategy is 1%. Maybe sub. I’ll also go on record as saying that 90% is invested into buildables – the ads, websites, POS, and content we built to help sell. That leaves 9 percent for what? Measurement, analytics, quantitative research.

This is a shame. It’s also why only half of advertising works. It’s why Google is killing it and in many cases becoming strategy for marketers.

What is strategy? It’s a plan to accomplishing a goals. An organizing principle for tactics. Talk to many marketing and you’ll find many who confuse objectives and strategies. And tactics and strategy.

The absolute most important part of a market plan is the strategy page. It’s the page that requires the most thought, the most time, the most discussion and the most complete buy-in from senior management. When the marketing plan is reviewed by senior management, in what typically is a 2 hour meeting once a year, it’s the budget page that gets the most attention. Who will get the most buildables? Who will create them? Where will they go? What will they achieve?

It’s backwards. For every percentage point taken from buildables and put into strategy, the payout is truly significant. As my Norwegian aunt used to say “Tink about it.”




Brand Ideas and Words.


Words are to strategy what notes are to music. A great piece of music lays a set of notes into a unique order that can make a song bird take notice. Words by Dickens are constructed differently than those by Dennis Lehane. The words used in a powerful strategy idea (the claim) are powerful and rich but are just words. Does the word “polydimensional” mean the same thing as “multi-channel” or “multifaceted”? Probably. But as part of a brand strategy claim it can take on added ballast.

Poly suggests science and medicine. Also academia. Dimensional suggests 3-D. Linear but vast. As someone once said about brands “they are empty vessels into which we pour meaning.” But a good word can help guide and organize meaning.

Choose your words very carefully. Be sure the context is rich, but do not fall into category babble or nomenclature. It’s okay to use some counterintuitive or incongruous words, so long as human context makes sense. Never confuse. Be artful and find words pregnant with meaning. Malleable meaning that create value for your brand. And, as in music, it doesn’t hurt to offer a bit of poesy or a lyrical feel.



Data-Driven Marketing.


When writing a marketing plan I need to know the size of the category. Globally and in the country I’m working. As the world becomes more data-fied, these figures should he easier to come by. Well, one can hope.

Television ad spending in the U.S., for instance, is projected by Magna Global to be down 3.5% this year. Good marketing planners will ask “Where that 3.5% will go?” To another medium? Or will it just be the ebb and flow of money in the market? Category data is important so you can see where your brand nets out. Are you growing faster than the category? More slowly? Or are you sliding along with the others?

Sources of data don’t always agree so picking one is important. And not all data is reported the same way. It’s maddening. Marketers know data is big business and quite expensive. The big guys are willing to pay, the little ones not so much. Category and brand sales data can cost from $5,000 to $10,000. Hefty indeed, for a spread sheet. It’s necessary and worth every penny.

Though the world may run on Dunkin, marketing runs on data.



Brand Planning Tip.


All brand planners have their tools. We use them to corral insights and generate ideas we can sell as organizing principles for the work other will do. My go-to tools are the 24 Questions, my Executive and Sales Team Questionnaire, and a Brand Brief. From time to time I’ve used a presentation format sharing “Insights, Implications and Recommendations” as well.

Here’s a new ditty I came up with for an art start-up a few years ago. I call it the 10 conundrums. I use it as an interim step before crafting the brand brief. After doing all my exploratory work, quant research and interviews, I cobble together a number of market, consumer and company contradiction. Perplexing contradictions or true conundrums. These I share with the client work team to see how they feel about them. How they deal with them. The dialogue about these points if often quite important. Here’s an example from my art start-up project:

Art appreciation is personal and subjective. Yet having a trusted art-savvy acquaintance to call upon can influence that subjectivity – adding dimension and a level of comfort.

Toolkits are nice to have. Reinventing them, adding to them and evolving them are how we get better at what we do.



The Future of Sales.


Does anyone want to bet the cars we drive today will be the same as those that will transport us in 30 years? I don’t. Apple is not taking that bet. Seeing the future is hard. Did medallion taxi drivers know UBER was going to upset their market and livelihoods? Did the railroad see airplane travel as a down-the-road disruptor?

Railroad_Trestle_(Old)Closer to home, do marketers and ad agents see what is coming in the world of selling? Do they recognize software, devices, location and databases will make it easier for sellers to find, meet and incentivize buyers than ever in history? Presumably with less mark-up.

I may be wrong, but as our future selling tools and conveyances change (advertising, distribution channel, and overhead) one thing that will remain will be brand strategy. That means name, design, position, and the organizing principle that binds it all together. Of course, that’s what the railroad tycoons said, so I/we must be on alert. On high alert.



Learn from a salesman.


One of the things that makes watching the Olympics on TV so compelling is the human interest piece they do on athletes before each event. Usually it revolves around a home town and a hardship conveyed by friends, family or teachers. These back-stories not only set context, but allow viewer a little emotional skin in the game.

In advertising, this is not really possible. It used to be in the early days of long copy print ads, not anymore; not in this fast twitch media world with smart phone ads the size of a pinky finger.

The ability to set the stage for selling using exposition is something great sales people do. They story tell with examples tied to the course of the conversation. And they story tell, not off the boiler plate talking points of the company, but using heart and soul of experiences (or proofs) that carry emotional “reasons to prefer” a brand. As I mentioned in my last post, that’s usually not material-based but experience-based.

This is the heart of storytelling today. And it was learned from belly-to-belly salespeople, as are most great selling schemes and techniques.

Web sites could borrow a page. Peace.


B2B Futures.


An Ad Age article headline today reads “B-to-B E-Commerce Sales to Reach $1.1 Trillion in 2020.” That’s a pretty big number. In 2015 B2B e-comm is expected to amount to about $780B so that is a pretty big jump. Who, pray tell, do we think will be a big beneficiaries of that revenue?

I’ve written before that Amazon Wholesale will win a great deal of that business. I’ve warned a comfortable local company industrial distribution company, MSC Direct, that Amazon is coming, but they don’t seem to feel the urgency. Probably because they are growing at market rate. Another local B2B distribution company is sending Google checks for $30M every year to help improve their position in search so as to sell their $1B in annual goods.  Again, not a plan.

To all those who look to the future of opportunities I ask “Who will win this B2B ecommerce business?” Delivery and shipping companies will earn a great deal. Internet device and hardware companies will win. The consuming B2B companies should win, with prices coming down.  Will ad agencies earn? Doesn’t sound like it.

If you were to build a start-up to take a cut of this vast amount of resource, what would it be. Can you UBER-ize B2B commerce? Segment it? Localize it? Let me know.





Deeds vs. Materials.


The early Egyptians built with stone and what they built still stands. Shea Stadium was built in the 60s and had to be torn down. It was built with steel and cement. If you were to build a structure today that you wanted to last for 1,000 years what would you use? Perhaps someone will invent a new composite material for building construction that will last 500,000 years.

The materials with which we construct products – sugar in carbonated soft drinks, salt in French fries, silicon in computer chips – are seen as building blocks of brands. Yet, when I develop brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks) the materials are secondary, perhaps tertiary. What the materials deliver is way more important.

During my exploration rigor I use a number of tools to mine insights as to “what customers want most” and what the product or service “does best.” Then with all the learning arrayed, I begin to boil down the elements into groups. The groups cluster and point to a common claim…of brand superiority or customer desire. So proof, in fact, comes before claim.

Rarely are materials the sole heroes of the proof planks; deeds and experiences often are. It may sounds backwards but it works for me.