Monthly Archives: December 2015

Big Moves.


Great marketers use big moves to get an unfair share of the market. Amazon Prime is one such. For $99 a year an Amazon Prime member gets free 2-day shipping in the U.S. During one week in December 3 million customers signed up for Prime. Do the math. That’s not fuzzy math, that’s Zuckerberg money. There are some projections that half of American households will have a Prime account by 2020. Is Amazon losing money with prime? Have you shipped a package across country lately? I suspect so. They’re buying share with this amazing big move but it is tilting the market even further toward them.

Another big move was made by Hyundai a number of years ago. It was the 100,000 mile, 10 year power train (whatever that means) warranty. Smart consumers could hardly turn down an offer like that. My bet is it hit the coasts and Chicago as a quick win then seeped into other parts of the country. Especially young families. The price point was good, the 10 years unparalleled. Did it cost Hyundai a lot of money? Prob. Did it make them rely more heavily on quality? Def. Did it buy market share? Oh yeah. Big move.

Big moves are not for the weak-kneed. Can you think of any big moves that went sour? Please share with Steve at WhatsTheIdea.





Twitter Is the News.


Twitter is an important company. When Iraq took back Ramadi the day before yesterday, prime minister Haider al-Abadi, took to Twitter to make the announcement. In real time. A few years ago when China underwent a massive earthquake, the world was notified on Twitter. In real time. The Arab Spring took place, in great part, on Twitter.

Twitter isn’t ready yet for Facebook size masses. It hasn’t settled. Maybe it’s currently stuck at a couple hundred million users. (Am I listening to myself? Did I say stuck?) Shareholders and Wall Street want Twitter to be a bullion user application. And it will be, but right now people need to chill. Twitter is important in ways we haven’t yet figured. I have my own beliefs about Twitter’s place in the social ecosystem, but they are not shared by everyone.

Twitter is the Google of conversation. It is earth flattening. It will do more to create one global language than any other product.

Twitter is in the news for a number of reasons: leadership, growth, diversity to name a few. Let’s fix the diversity-in-the-corporate ranks problem, then take a breath. And let this gangly adolescent grow. Peace.


The language. A brand planner tip.


A critical component of brand planning is understanding the special language of the seller and buyer. In the tech sector, the language can be quite unique, with many words to learn. As a young strategist working with AT&T’s Business Communications Services, I developed an acronym dictionary I kept with me every day. One could sit in a technical marketing meeting at AT&T back then and hear 10 acronyms in 10 minutes. In other technical businesses, e.g., healthcare, finance, and insurance learning the seller language is equally important. On the buyer side it isn’t as critical because the technical stuff goes thought a translation filter before it hits a consumer. (But if language is dumbed down too much, it comes out as marko-babble.)

When you learn the language of the seller, you hear things you couldn’t otherwise. Nuance. Emotion. It makes it so the sellers don’t have to teach, they can communicate. If you speak their language you also become more trusted.

Consultants and freelancers who don’t have a lot of time to learn the language are handicapped. It’s the first thing one needs to do on a new assignment. You need a good ear. No foreign word is unimportant. Study the language by reading trades magazines. Learning the language makes the first few meetings a bit clunky, but it’s necessary.



Brand strategy is business strategy.


A brand strategy done well encompasses the marketing strategy and is the business strategy. Why? Because it’s active. I define brand strategy as an “organizing principle that drives product, experience and messaging.” Messaging is last…because a message that doesn’t reflect product and experience is simply copy.

Ask any successful business leader to identify their company’s “one claim” (consumer promise) and three “support planks,” and they’ll be hard-pressed to do it. That is why brand strategy is so tough. A single claim and three product or service values, many will tell you, is too limiting. Until you see it on paper. On business stationery. A good brand strategy is not filled with marko-babble, it contains business-winning evidence. Business-winning behaviors and business-winning strategy.

I call it brand strategy and contrary to what some consultants will peddle, it is way more than a loose federation of tactics, metrics and tagline.

For real life examples, please write Steve at WhatsTheIdea.



Chipotle Takes Another Hit.


Chipotle announced today another 5 people contacted E Coli at their restaurants in the Midwest. The PR agency and Communications Director for Chipotle should be embarrassed. Their “cry wolf” letters to customers the last few weeks, delivered via full-page ads, were rookie mistakes. It’s not that that they shouldn’t have apologized, it’s just that the timing sucked. They hadn’t fixed the problem. The letters made is sound as if they had.

The news story suggested that because of Chipotle’s means of record keeping it was difficult to know which ingredient (of 60) was at fault. Fix the record keeping. Now.

It’s not easy feeding a million people a day. Especially if you set the high food standards Chipotle does. Standards more companies should follow. Don’t get me wrong, I love Chipotle (chicken burrito, black beans, queso, corn salsa, todo, but no sour cream). But they have to get their data and record keeping right. Then get their crisis management shit together. They have a lot of equity in the brand bank; in 2015 a good deal is slipping away. 



Who’s Making the Ads Today?


The advertising business, for years, has been a content assembly line manned by people expert in creating and polishing ads — experts, who are typically white, college educated, in their 30s, and lived in big urban centers. Some have emigrated from the burbs. Not a particularly heterogeneous group.

Brand planners and strategists suffer similar backgrounds, though suffer may be the wrong word. Unfortunately, these 5,000 or so well-paid people don’t really represent those to whom they’re selling. This group of ad men and women don’t look like the 300 million consumers targeted with doing the buying. These creators try to pretend they understand the targets, while really only understanding storytelling and ad production.

It is my view that content creation can best be done, most effectively done, using more creators who are part of the demographic and psychographic. Think about the best blogs. They speak to their targets by being part of the target. Let’s get more ads into the hands of people who really understand those they’e talking to. Not into the hands of a small class of interpreters.




Follow The Patent.


I’ve done brand work on a number of start-ups and it’s hard. Hard, because there is often no product to evaluate pre-launch. No customers to interview. In the tech world you can work off user experience (UE) of the Beta or demo, but that’s not always real world. So how do you mine “care-abouts” and “good-ats”?

You follow the patent.

To receive a patent you must have a product or service that offers something appreciably different from what currently exists in the commercial world. Something worth defending. For most of my clients I like to follow the money but with start-ups, pre-product, it’s the patent. Start with qualitative, move to quantitative, maybe go back to quant, then get the founders to buy in. If they don’t buy in to the claim and proof planks, and I mean totally, you don’t have a brand strategy. Likely, you don’t have a business strategy.





Affordable Marketing Act.


As someone who has studied the Affordable Care Act and accountable care organizations (I’m hell a parties), I can say with certainty, that we can drive massive cost and fat out of healthcare. We’ve only taken a few steps at this point but we’ve started. A mentor of mine once said “The idea to have an idea is sometimes greater than the idea itself.” (Did I mention, he was the world’s first million dollar a year copywriter and bit of a tippler?)

john wanamker

The whole Medicare thing got me thinking about waste in marketing and advertising. Advertising, the business that celebrates the John Wanamaker quote, “I know half my advertising is working, the problem is, I don’t know which half.”

The fact that marketing programs and advertising are so unscientific is disturbing. So why don’t we do something about it? Who will take up the cause? Not the government, that’s for sure. The AMA? The ANA? They try but their best practices seminars and booklets offer wan counsel. And the nature of the free enterprise business is that once you find a winner you want to keep it to yourself.

So how do we drive cost and fat out of the ad marketing business? Consultants like me offer to do it, but charge for it. Other company’s failings are our opportunities.

There needs to be a big study. And a beginning. It probably should be funded by the top 100 brands. It should take into consideration, digital, mobile, ecommerce, brick and mortar and data science. It should also be global.

Lastly, this effort should have independent leadership. It may take 20 years for good findings, but what’s to lose? Marketers are already pizzling away half their budgets. The Affordable Marketing Act could save hundreds of billions. Peace.

Nfinity’s Tate Chalk on Social Media.


nfinity logo

Tate Chalk, the founder of footwear and apparel company Nfinity, has built a brand on par with Nike in the minds of teenage girls in the cheer community. He did so by understanding the morphology of women, i.e., feet, long bones, knees and hips, differs from that of boys. He and his designers built cheer shoes accordingly. “Shrink ‘em and pink ‘em” is what competitors did to sell girls footwear; not Mr. Chalk. His business has grown beyond cheer, using the same guiding principle.

I interviewed Mr. Chalk this week because I wanted a look inside his amazing social media program. He has done everything right. There were few surprises, but there was one left hook. It floored me.

Much of my brand planning work deals with the distillation of customer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.” Nfinity has a good handle on those. It has constructed its social media program around 7 core values. I can’t tip his hand, but “Rocky Balboa-ness” is one.  

Nfinity takes its deep, deep understanding of its target group, girls age 10-20, and celebrates it every day. Warts and all. The brand knows which buttons to push and which not to – making the brand real. Nfinity understands the highs and lows of the target as well as the drama. Nfinity also never forgets these kids are hardcore athletes.

Nfinity gets communications planning really well. Better than most big agency comms planners. Time-of-day, location, event, family time, hormones – all are drivers. Moreover, the social media program managers get the “digital two-step,” the mobile lifestyle that takes place 2 feet in front of the target’s noses. And a big plus, Nfinity spends money on production: new video technology, lighting, music, and well-heeled post production. Everyone talks about blocking and tackling in social media, few execute this well.

The Left Hook.

Mr. Chalk and the team of millennials running Nfinity’s program do not go to battle the same way across all social vehicles. They stay true to their core values but treat each platform as a different theater of brand expression. Without going too deeply into his approach, he explained:

“I might be a son, a father, a brother. I am one person but must use different voices in different situations.” While What’s The Idea? uses a framework of 1 claim and 3 proof planks and hits all these notes across touch points, Mr. Chalk gerrymanders his strategy by social media channel, letting the aggregate story convey the Nfinity value. This is nuance. This is smart. This is a company with serious social media chops. His followers agree.