Monthly Archives: November 2015

Product Gesture vs. Product Experience.


Experience is hot marketing word these days. It is rooted me thinks in user experience (UX), which started in the early days of the web when sites were hard to navigate and not intuitive. Ad and digital agencies caught on to experience a few years later as a way to create new buildables (content) and garner planning fees It didn’t hurt that “customer journey” and “communications planning” were smart ideas to begin with.

Product experience, some will have you believe, starts with communications and ends with the after-sale. The experience is everything in between. A lot of product experience buildables – designed to follow the AIDA principle: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action — are online and in-store. But product gesture is different.

Product gesture is not so much about the product journey and surround as it is the “consuming experience.” (See my last blog post.) A product gesture is the olfactory response that occurs when you drive by a Burger King. It’s why “flame broiled” is such a powerful brand asset of BK. For Coke, whose long standing brand idea is refreshment, the moment when your head snaps back after a full swig of a newly opened Coke is induced by the product gesture. Google’s product gesture occurs during search when your problem is solved, you smile and twitch to act.

Every product has a gesture. Man-made gestures like the Stella Artois pour and glass are distant seconds, but they are gestures nonetheless.

Find your product gesture and you will find marketing and branding success.

What is your product gesture?


Product Gestures

Guinness for strength
Guinness for strength

I once Tweeted: “The fastest way to brand loyalty: Don’t take customers for granted and provide them with unexpected, thoughtful product gestures.”

The word in this statement that excites me is gestures. It’s easy to see what a service gesture is, that’s a manmade experience, but a product gesture? Hmm. At the time I’m sure what I meant by product gesture was “service gesture,” or “corporate gesture.” However, now I’m looking at product gesture a little differently. A little more organically.

A rough definition of gesture is: A movement or action that is expressive of an idea, opinion or emotion. So let’s look at that for a second. When you pour a beer, is the head an expression? Of course it is. But of what? Freshness, glass cleanliness, taste? And don’t all beers have head? Indeed they do. Guinness Stout has a head, however that head is richer, fuller, made up of tinier bubbles due to carbonation from nitrogen not carbon dioxide. An organic product expression.  

When brand planners look for differentiation they can start by asking product managers and consumers what gestures derive from the product. Product gestures are part of the consuming experience not the marketing experience.

Tink about it as my Norwegian aunt might say. Peace.

(More on experiences vs. gestures tomorrow.)

Consumer Voyeurism.


The memeable me is always on the lookout of ways to explain what I do as a brand strategist. I recently sent out something to someone telling them I was “two parts brand strategist, one part voyeur.” Now before you go casting prurient stones, my gratification from watching consumers is not sexual. It is, however, gratifying. I love watching people. I love trying to figure them out. Their tells? What’s on their mind? (And it’s almost always not marketing. Even while shopping.) How are they responding to situations and why? A man shopping for San Marzano tomatoes Saturday evening is not thinking brands, he’s thinking mom and football/crusty bread and rich butter.

Good consumer voyeurism takes into account context, timing, location, visual cues, behavior, facial expressions – not to mention socio-economics. Just as Sherlock Homes assesses a person’s motives by putting them under close scrutiny, so must a brand strategist put consumers under a watchful eye. We hunt, we observe, we process and imply. Then we start again. We look more deeply into people than does a demographer. Soul searching is our MO.



The Fish Store.


I was driving through Bayport-Bluepoint, a south shore of Long Island village, over the weekend and passed a relatively new, tall gray clapboard building with a neat flatfish logo, named The Fish Store. By its name and the look I assumed it was an upscale fishing store – a place to by poles, line, fighting chairs. The biggest paper sign in the window said in little letters “Now” and “Orders” with the large word “TAKING” in between. Driving by quickly, I misread the word as “tackle.” Context is everything.

Turns out, after a second drive by, this was a retail fresh fish store and take-out joint.

I often discuss the importance of context in branding; this is a case in point. Poor store design, signage and naming. All rolled into one. A name with seafood in it may have sent a quick message to passing consumers. Or the word “fresh.” Some architectural, lighting or retail signage detail would also have helped. Flounder 7.99/lb, for instance.

For unknowing consumers passing through town, this place broke all the rules.

If it looks like a duck…Peace.   



Brand Planning Questions.


Part of the secret sauce of brand planning is the interview; be it of customers, prospects, partners, sales people or company management. And the art of the question is in the ability to ask and extract rational information that helps “follow the money” and “follow the preference,” but also emotional interests. Emotional connections with the product, brand or category.

The art of the question also lies in listening and the redirect…taking a path the interviewee establishes and working it is where contextual serendipity takes over. Don’t get me wrong, I have a battery of questions I use as thought starters, but the riffing is always good. It shows the interviewee is interested.

Questions that get people to warm up and open up tend to be less rational. I use one question with company management that goes something like this, “Fast forward one year, after we’ve worked together, and everything has gone beyond your wildest expectation, tell me what we’ve accomplished?”  Here’s a new one I came up with while reading the paper today. It sounds a little goofy and simple but I’m going to try it.  “What are your dreams for this company?” It may be one of those “idea to have an idea” prompts, but in the c-suite, with different department leaders answering, it may prove telling. Stay tuned.



Apple’s Product Diaspora.


I have not spent a lot of my hard-earned buying Apple products. I have a fallow iTunes account, had an iPod, and I worked on a Mac for a year while at an ad agency. I’ve not read any books about Steve Jobs, but did go to see the recent movie – which was fab. I love Apple marketing. I love its sensibility and design. Cool company indeed. But I wonder about its product diaspora — something I’m reading about every day. There’s Apple Pay, also a new peer-to-peer payment system in the offing, Apple TV, Apple Music, Apple Radio…the list goes on.

Is this a device company?  A platform company?  A transaction or app company? I know not. It’s certainly a rich company. A successful company.  It is one of the world’s most admired companies. The big question is, is the brand more important than the products? It seems so. And that’s a great place for a brand to be. But with this product diaspora, I’m beginning to wonder what will happen to the brand in 5, 10 and 20 years?  When the word Apple and the mind do not synch up. What will teens and tweens associate with the brand? Apple is an overdog. A great one. But what will this product/service/app creep do to it?

Time will tell. Perhaps on an Apple Watch. Peace.


Hewlett Packard Enterprise Quiet Period.


Sorry for my snark yesterday concerning the BBDO advertising for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. I’m sure the people who worked on the campaign are very nice. I worked on the Lucent Technologies launch in the 90s when AT&T and Lucent spun apart, and the execution was superb. From the logo design to the launch ads and the subsequent follow-on advertising — that was McCann-Erickson at its best. Lucent was only an $11B company at the time. Hewlett Packard enterprise is $53B.

Launching multi-billion dollar spin offs should be a big thing. Not a pedestrian effort. HP is an American brand of great import. It should carry itself that way. The company deserved fanfare. It deserved a great launch. A big budget.

An ad is an expression of a company. My hope is that moving forward Ms. Whitman and her executives put great effort into the new brand and company, and this “quiet period” will be over soon.



Advertising By Bot.


HP split into two companies recently, one of which is called Hewlett Packard Enterprise. It is a $53B company. I’ve been picking on pre-break up company HP for its idea-less advertising for a couple of years, trying to learn more about the advertising by writing planners at BBDO, a terrific shop that know some advertising. To no avail.

hp enterprise

The launch advertising for Hewlett Packard Enterprise is preposterous in this day and age. It’s poor 1990 technology advertising. The brand strategy revolves around “accelerate next.” as in accelerate the speed with which customers use and benefit from technology. Say whaaat? The print work I saw this week is high school- like. The TV ad feels like as if it was directed by an ad bot.

I know Hewlett Packard Enterprise makes some serious technology and does amazing things. But ads are not one of them. Meg Whitman must be asleep at the switch. And BBDO? This is C team stuff. David Lubars can’t have an excuse. The brand brief must have been written by a temp. And I’m not even cranky this morning. This whole advertising cluster fork is amazing to me.

And the Siegle+Gale logo and naming project?  Also sophomoric. I can only hope the teams had about 10 days to do everything and that this the result. Accelerating Next can sometimes be a mistake.





What Comes First in Branding?


There is Brand Design, the creating of logos, packaging and style manuals, there is Brand Experience Design, the creation of product or service journey delivery across existential consumer touch points, and there is what I do at What’s The Idea?, Brand Strategy.

It’s nice in my world because brand strategy is the precursor to all other brand building initiatives. It’s the starting point.

The North Shore-LIJ Health System is in the midst of changing its name and logo. They’ve decided on Northwell Health as a name and a multicolor, multi-pixilated logo. Before Monigle Associates, their design house, started work they needed a brief. A brand strategy brief.

When Dunkin’ Donuts redesigned its stores to improve experience and dial up profitability, Starfish, their partner, needed a brand strategy brief.

When you decouple the brand strategy brief from the logo, package or experience design you get a cleaner, no lobbying approach. Brand strategy is the starting place for all things brand. It should not be part of another process, but a process in and of itself.

The design of the brand strategy is not a means to an end, it’s THE means to an end. Not an extra process, it’s the most important process. If you need some help with your brand strategy before building things, let’s chat.

Steve at whatstheidea.




On Marketing Innovation.


Fred Wilson VC from Union Square Partners and a blogging hero of mine was quoted today on AVC as saying “…it hasn’t been that easy for a seller to be creative on social networks. Posting a link to their shop on facebook, or tweeting or pinning their latest item is fine. But doing that over and over quickly gets boring for everyone.”

Social networks are template based mediums. You know what else is a template based media? Broadcast advertising: TV and radio. And they tend to suffer a similar fate. So how do advertising agents break the broadcast template? I think we try to make it twitch-able. (A twitch being a media move from one device to another in search of clarification.) Shazam is something that can do this. Twitter too. But no one has done a great, breakthrough job with these technologies in broadcast yet. It’s coming.

So what’s the Idea? Send me your thoughts ( so we can break out of this broadcast boredom cycle.