Monthly Archives: February 2016

Salesmanship and Trust.


How do you earn the trust of someone you’ve just met? It’s a question salespeople have been asking for ages. One way is though product knowledge. If you deliver product knowledge with conviction and deep belief, you’re likely to earn customer trust. Even if the information is wrong, if well delivered, it can come off as believable. This approach is rooted in “learning.” Teachers are trusted, salespeople are not. Salespeople are viewed as trying to make a buck. Off you. When I am in a selling situation and I hear words come out of my mouth that sound like selling, I know I’m toast. Hell, I wouldn’t buy from me. 

Another way to earn trust is through humor. I know, I know, the two seem strange bedfellows. But humor creates and accelerates likability which is a precursor to trust. Humor doesn’t set the hook, but it puts the hook right in front of the customer’s mouth. Humor is a positive psychosocial phenomenon and does not evoke fight or flight.

A salesperson with a good measure of humor capped off by strong product knowledge is in a good position to facilitate commerce. Notice I didn’t say sell. Hee hee.





Sell More.


There are many ways to make money in marketing. Sergio Zyman, ex-Coke CMO recites a few “Sell more, more times, to more people, at higher prices.” Elegant, no? I work with a kitchen remodeling company Kitchen Magic, owner of a smart business model. Without going into the secret sauce, let me just say they manufacture a good product, offer smart advice, install it well and quickly, and offer a warranty that outlasts the tastes of its customers.

One of Mr. Zyman’s ways to increase sales is to sell “more times.”  In the kitchen remodeling business, data exists that says how long a typical kitchen goes before it’s redone; let’s say that number is 16 years. A way for a remodeling company to increase sales would be to accelerate that timeframe. If they can cut it in half that would certainly have a positive impact.  So how do you accelerate the remodeling timeframe? Or how do you get people to buy a new car every 4 years rather than 6 years? How do you sell more times, or more often? You change your marketing arc. This is not done through a loyalty program, it’s done with deep dish marketing thinking. “Sell more” is one of the many marketing questions we all need to think about…more.



Mobile Nourishment.


I was reading some data points about mobile usage this morning (source Yahoo’s Simon Khalaf) and learned that 280 million people worldwide check their mobile phones over 60 times a day?  Did you also know the average American spends 4 hours and 11 minutes on his or her phone daily?

Of all that time, how much of it is nourishing to the body and soul, I wonder? If I were to guess 10%, would I be in the ballpark?

Health and fitness apps are nourishing one can presume. News and analysis also good. Thoughtful and heartfelt communications qualify. Music can be nourishing and certainly educational podcasts. But goofy videos, comedic cartoons, flaccid Facebook posts and hours of Candy Crush? I don’t think so.

Was I an investor in start-ups, I’d be on the lookout for mobile nourishment apps.  Once we flip the percentages from 90% fluff to 10% fluff we may actually reduce overall time on phones, too.  Bad news for the mobile carriers. Good news for people.



IBM to Googleplex Health Care.


Data is the new content. With IBM’s $2.6B investment in Truven Health Analytics, we are seeing the beginnings of a massive bet on the data business.  IBM has always made its paycheck with data processing hardware and consulting. Sure they’ve sold software but in this age of cloud computing, where software will kinda go away, IBM seems to be appreciating that data ownership is the ticket. Watson Health (into which Truven will be folded) is more than big iron and a log-in, it will be a repository of data that will make a manifold improvement in the quality of health worldwide.

The Obama administration has pushed for EMRs (electronic medical records), which was a brilliant first step. But as is the way in free enterprise societies there are now 70-ish EMRs available, most of which don’t talk to one another.  Where’s the big data “learn” from that?  Truven Heatlh Analytics owns treatment data from 200 million patients. Data. Not sequestered software records. This is an analytics mother lode. This is Google scale stuff — but with a mission that goes way beyond Ad Words revenue. We’re talking “saving lives and transforming care” here.

IBM and Watson are not washing their hands of big iron and consulting, but they are def getting into the data business — in a low hanging fruit sector. Watch out Google. Watch out.


Tim Cook or Farhad Manjoo?


“Apple’s emerging global brand is privacy,” is a statement Farhad Manjoo made in his cover story in today’s New York Times. As someone with access to Tim Cook, Mr. Manjoo has a leg up on me when it comes to statements like this about brand, but this one caught me by surprise. There is an interesting video I watched recently by NYU’s Scott Galloway, in which he shares brand ideas of the top tech brands in the land (Google, Amazon, and Facebook). He smartly pointed out that it’s hard to articulate the Apple brand idea. Using my framework for brand strategy, which is “one idea, three proof planks,” I have to agree with Mr. Galloway. In all my studies and hypotheses of and about the Apple brand I can tell you privacy isn’t a plank I would come up with.  That’s not to say it’s not possible, it just feels a little off-piste. A little “of the moment.”

So when Farhah Manjoo, bandies about the “p” word in a branding context, in the midst of Apple’s kerfuffle with the U.S. government, I think he’s either taking some license or Mr. Cook is playing fast and loose with the brand.






Brand Planner’s Prayer


Things we remember.

We remember beauty.

We remember new.

We remember rich.

We remember melody.

We remember funny.

We remember nature.

We remember poetry.

We remember pain.

We remember educators.

We remember warmth.

We remember charity.

We remember happy.

We remember love.

We remember triumph.

These are the things we remember.

These are the things consumers remember.

(I post this planner’s prayer once a year as a reminder.)

Brand Strategy’s Slow Creep


One of the coolest things I get to do as a brand planner is sit back and watch a company or product transform after a new brand strategy is presented. The word viral would be an overstatement, because “one claim and three proof planks” aren’t quickly acculturated into a company. When properly sold in, however, and that means well beyond the marketing department, a brand strategy can take hold fairly quickly. It will alter the work of the SEO team — all of a sudden new key words begin to pop in as traffic drivers. Company language in meetings tilts in a slightly new direction. And once a company language changes it’s not long before partner and consumers language follow.

The day after I present final brand strategy, I’m checking the website to see if anyone has made changes to the home page. Week two I’m checking new videos to see if the company Is-Does has morphed. I look to newly minteed press releases for changes to the first sentence and the “About” paragraph. My expectation is that things will change immediately. (Doe-eyed Poppe.)

Strategy work is a lot less requited than design work. When a new logo and tagline hits the street, it’s easily seen. It’s fast and obvious. But when a brand strategy hits, it’s often a slow creep. That doesn’t keep me from checking right away. Hee hee. 



The Black Hole That is Branding.


black hole

According to the NYT today, the definition of black holes is “the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape.” Leave it to the Times to put something so complex into human terms. Einstein, when talking about the geometry of the universe likened it to a bed mattress, which only moves and reacts when a sleeper moves. It’s shape distorting with the movement of matter an energy. So basically, there are still some things that are quite hard to explain. And that’s brings me to branding.

Ask 100 people about branding and you’ll get 80 answers. From “branding is an empty vessel into which you pour meaning?,” a favorite of mine, to “”the process of creating a relationship or a connection between a company’s product and emotional perception of the customer for the purpose of generating segregation among competition and building loyalty among customers,” which is straight out of Wikipedia (did I say straight?).

Branding today is marketing’s black hole. Everyone is talking about is, everyone is doing it, everyone thinks they know what it is, but few can articulate it. For all the frameworks brand experts have developed and all the webinars and presentation on the topic, few have been able to boil it down. To a simple algorithm. Or formula.

The framework used by What’s The Idea? is one such…and it works. At the top of the framework is a brand claim. A claim of value; something customer wants and something the brand delivers. Every brand then needs proof for that claim. I use 3 proof planks for my framework. The theory of three.

If you have a claim and proof array and you demonstrate it every day, you are brand building. You are branding.

Mattress indeed.




Bad Brand Magic.


magic cauldron

Brands are meaningless without products. It used to be easy in the old days, before service companies came about. Everything was clean; you bought things that went thump on a table or desk. You bought stuff. Stuff had qualities to which you could associate value. Then along came services like insurance and banking — and value was derived from process and experience. In this world price became even more important.

Fast forward 30 years past the service economy to the information economy, fueled by integrated circuits and computers, business accelerants, and product have become a much smaller part of the economy. The science of marketing in this economy has become “magical.” And not in a good way. In a way where magic is unexplainable. Enter the overuse and obfuscation of the word brand. Brand has become the ephemera around which fees and silly ads are built… around which logos and taglines are traded.

But let me take a breath. Branding has evolved.

Service companies can be brands. They can establish muscle memory for the value of a process or experience. But it takes a framework. It takes, as I like to call it, an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”

I’ve done brand strategy this work for billion dollar organizations, service groups within billion dollar orgs and small businesses who sell to billion dollar orgs. And you know what? Every service is the same and every service is different. If you’d like to take the bad magic out of your marketing, write me (steve at whatstheidea) and I’ll share some examples of powerful service brand strategies. Peace.