Monthly Archives: January 2016

Kola House.


I like PepsiCo’s idea to launch a new theme restaurant in NYC called Kola House. It’s daring and smart. Especially for a carbonated soft drink in second place, losing year-over-year volume. Not every marketing issue can be fixed by advertising and it looks like Pepsi is trying some new things. This multimillion dollar bet should energize the brand and, more importantly energize the marketing team — something Pepsi sorely needs.

Using the Kola nut as their north star and Chelsea in NYC as their launch pad, Pepsi has a shot at adding relevance to a brand for millions of typically uninterested people. It’s an unfair fight in what once was a cola war and is, now, no longer. The learning and outputs of Kola House may have great impact on the business. A new drink. A new snack. Perhaps a new line of clothing or even a new app.

We’ll find out. When you change the game good things can happen. Dialing down the Pepsi, celebrating the Kola and creating a new experience is an exciting marketing test lab. Dare I say, it’s refreshing?




One of the nicest compliments I’ve had while in the consulting business is I’m persistent. In business development, I reach out to prospects and provide them with little nuggets that might help their strategy and marketing. I do if for years. Sometimes I get a meeting, other times not. Timing is everything. “You surely are persistent,” I’ve been told. So long as I don’t get the sense that persistent equals annoying, I stay the course.

Brands need to be persistent. They need to provide a predictable and expected experience and constantly remind everyone of the fact. Though brand strategy. Brand strategy is an organized proof array, anchored to an idea.

Persistence is action. It’s not rote repetition. That’s why I’m always pushing clients to seek new proof. The new proof is what makes things fresh. New expressions of claim and proof. Exciting and memorable expressions.

That’s brand building. It’s not called brand stasis. Persistence in branding yields value and results. Always building.




Brand Strategy Enculturation.


Brand strategies are first and foremost internal documents. Ninety percent of marketers think they are external; ideas to be foisted upon the consuming public. That’s called advertising.

Brand strategy comes way before advertising. It’s an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. It needs to be sold in at the top levels of a company and enculturated through to the lowest levels of the company. When so handled there are few things more powerful in the land of marketing.

I’ve written before that one of my regrets has been the inability to sell brand strategy throughout the client company. If the strategy is sold only on the executive floor, but doesn’t make it down the elevator, it is less likely to provide the shareholder/stakeholder/business value it needs to.

The heavy lifting of adopting a brand strategy is found in training. And internal communications. PR needs to buy in as well. Once approved, brand strategy is not a democratic pursuit. It needs to be shared, understood, operationalized, practiced and incentivized.

Great brand strategy becomes culture.






Brand Strategy Tip #12. Email Threads.


I’m always looking for new ways to get smart in my clients’ businesses. I use some old war horse tactics but am ever on the lookout for new stuff. People who follow What’s The Idea? know I’m a fan of “proof.” There’s talk, platitude and proof. On the old stuff side of the proof ledger is “windshield time” — time I spend riding around with salespeople watching them sell and buyers buy. The time in the car between sales calls is valuable learning time. However today, there’s a new flavor of windshield time. It’s called email. Lots of selling takes place in email.

Ask a client executive or senior sales person to send you an email thread of the back and forth with a prospect. Once you weed out the “let’s grab a coffees,” “clients worked with,” and “competitive positioning,” you get to some serious selling grist. It’s also interesting to see how tone in the email thread can change over time. You can almost feel the pulse.

Ask the client for email threads that resulted in business won and also some where they did not gain the business. See if you can understand the differences.

Email threads may be private so you have to be careful. Most selling conversations in email form aren’t identified as private. Just use your head.



Taglines and Brand Strategy.


I was presenting my strategy framework earlier this week and as part of my preso used examples of actual brand strategies (claim and proof planks). One of the claims presented ended up being a tagline for the company. When I shared this brand claim/tagline with the group a couple of people reacted by saying “That doesn’t sound so differentiated. That feels like other marketing claims.” And they were right.

The reality of brand claims and taglines is they just lie there unless you prove them. Every day. With the brand claim in question, the purchasing CEO and work team loved it because it reflected their key value like nothing they’d ever heard before. Plus it was aligned with a key customer care-about. The 3 proof planks supporting the claim were so business-winning, so strategic, that the claim/tagline struck them like a lightning bolt. They were willing to go to war based on this organizing principle. Were the three words below the logo people have never seen before? Nope. Were they poetic to the masses? Nope. But they struck a chord among the senior team. And motivated that team to new levels of marketing awareness.

We have become inured to marketing lyrics and taglines for tagline’s sake. When taglines are the craft of the ad agency they often fall short. When they come from a deep-dish brand strategy, they can last and last. Peace.



Coke. Good Ad Craft, Poor Idea Craft.


coke taste the feeling

Coke, at the behest of new CMO Marcos de Quinto, has jettisoned “Open Happiness.” It’s a move I applaud. What’s The Idea? readers familiar with my battle cry “Campaigns come and go…a powerful brand idea is indelible” have heard me say ad nauseam that “happiness” is not an endemic, ownable brand idea.

Mr. de Quinto’s new marketing strategy is quite good. Much of his justification for the new campaign is smart. Read the Ad Age story here. The “One Coke” strategy is brilliant in fact. “Sell Cokes not Coke.” Lots of good rationale. Where he goes off track is when it comes to advertising — as is often the case. He bought great advertising. His anthem spot gives one goosebumps; it’s what great anthem ads do. Problem is, it’s “Open Happiness” all over again. This time the line is “Taste The Feeling.” Sure we get a little product feature in there, but taste, even as a verb, is a generic descriptor. And Coke isn’t the best tasting soft drink anyway.

The Coke brand strategy is and ever shall be “refreshment.” I could write great refreshment copy and place it over the anthem spot and sell more Cokes. The marketing framework for the new campaign is strong. The campaign is good ad craft, but it’s built upon the wrong idea.

Coke will have killer numbers this year, thanks to big ad spending and the Rio Summer Olympics – a huge showcase for the campaign. But Mr. de Quinto and his peeps will feel the stasis that comes from good ad craft and poor idea-craft in about a year and a half.

Speak to you then. Peace.

PS. Using 6 ad agencies is also a good accounting ploy, but bad for the idea.





Brand Psychotherapy.


I was a psychology minor in college. Almost became a clinical psychologist. But it wasn’t until I spent some time under the care of a Freudian psychotherapist that I really learned a little something-something about the brain, psychophysiological responses, and the role of therapy in healing oneself. Anyway, I was recently interviewing a client for a brand consultancy job and at one point began to feel like therapist. Just a hint. What I realized was I was nearing some important truths about the business. Some uncomfortable truths. It was cathartic moment from the storyteller and brand’s point of view. I was in a good place with the interview.

It also helped me realize how unique a place it was and how infrequent was the feeling. Most interviews with business execs feel smart, real, but somewhat canned. Like I’m being treated like a reporter or a board member. I’m always evolving my question set but the last couple of years I’ve gone a little deep dish on successes and failures. I’m not trying to make an executive feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to recognize when I’m in that “truth” zone and use it.

Interviewees will either go down that hole with you or they’ll turtle shell up. The key is to encourage the former. “It must be hard to…”. “Give me an example of how you dealt with…”. “What did you learn from…?”

This learning may be too personal to alter the brand idea but it is likely to help get it approved. That said, if done ham-handedly, it could quietly get you the boot. Hee hee.



Chipotle Tables the Spin.


Chipotle is on the verge of turning its PR fiasco around. I’ve written before how Chipotle mishandled things related to food poisoning at its restaurant, but now they seem to be on the right track. They’re explaining and turning a negative outcome into a learning moment. For themselves and the public. Farm-to-table is not as easy to monitor as is the use of pasteurized products from huge mega-providers. Food prepared in stores is not as easily monitored as is food send forth pre-prepped and pre-cooked at regional hubs.

Educating the populace about this business model – and its challenges – is good business. A CEO letter to the public filled with platitudes about “never more vigilant” and the like is Business 101…and very un-Chipotle-like.  But learning and teaching moments are how smart companies do PR.

Stop the spin. Learn and teach. That’s easier. Bravo Chipotle.




Naming, Religion and Terrorism.


This is a political commentary and a branding commentary. I was reading an article in The New York Times on ISIS-Syria-Iraq and noticed how the words Islamic State were being used to refer to ISIS, ISIL and the lands occupied thereby. I believe it’s time to stop. If a terrorist organization of Christians were lazily called the Christian State, it would be deemed off-putting and unfair.

Words are important — and if we lazily say Islamic State rather than ISIS or ISIL aren’t we fostering disregard for the 1.6 billion peace loving members of Islam?

I understand using short hand in branding and naming. I plan for it and strategize about it. But you have to look at the downside. From the POV of fair non-Islamic peoples worldwide, we cannot afford to be careless and misleading in how refer to this small group of outliers.

Let’s stop today. Are you listening New York Times?



Yahoo! Too Much Mouth.


I don’t like being a brand commentator, sitting on the sidelines sharing what’s wrong with brands, without offering something positive. And I feel that way with Yahoo! As a brand consultant, people hire me to help create brand strategy. Were Yahoo! to hire me, here’s what I’d do. (Earlier in the month I wrote about What’s The Idea? process which covers Discovery, Fermentation and Boil Down. Here’s how I’d handle Discovery.

I was watching cyber security conference video last week and a senior level Yahoo! Security officer was leading the talk. He was smart, witty, believable, and committed. He is what I call a Poster – someone willing to share and help the public learn. Sadly, this gentleman who has since moved on to a big job at Facebook, was stowed away at corporate not seeing the public light of day. With Yahoo!, often all we get as the viewing, investing and using public, is Marissa Meyer playing offense and defense. Mostly from a stage.

I suspect there are scores of people like this security office at Yahoo! and these are the people I would speak to in Discovery. These are the body organs that drive a brand. That fuel the brain. That feed the mouth.

At Yahoo! we’ve been getting a modicum of brain and a lot of mouth. A good brand discovery would help go all deep dish on the company.