Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Content Marketing Fallacy.


I Tweeted yesterday that businesses should spend more time product marketing and less time content marketing. And I mean it.

The definition of content marketing from its namesake institute:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

The institute proclaims marketing as usual is dead; as is traditional advertising. We’ve heard that one before. Remember the “inbound marketing” phase? Content marketing is a cottage industry that has spawned tens of thousands of practitioners, with a flashier name for online marketing.

Is it direct marketing? Yes. Event marketing? Yes. Experiential marketing, I hope so. In my mind content marketing is way for agencies to replace revenue lost to Google Ad Words. A way to get Google to pay attention. The logic goes “If Google pays attention, people will too. So let’s post more words and pictures.”

Using a computing metaphor, content marketing is really just “distributed information.” Linking up distributed information the way software companies linked up distributed computers in the 90s and 00s — a volume play — feeds the Google’s algo.

What ever you call this flavor-of-the-day marketing tactic is up to you. What I care about for my clients is they have an organizing principle for product, experience and message, AKA a brand strategy. It will drive your tweets, PR releases, Super Bowl ads, and “About” page. More importantly it will drive sales. And Google will find you, trust me.




Brand Strategy Uncoupled.


I lost a brand strategy consulting job yesterday. The reason given was the company wanted a shop that could provide marketing services in addition to strategy. And understandable viewpoint. (The architect/builder relationship comes to mind.)  It’s probably no surprise I’m a believer in separation of strategy and campaign. From an economics standpoint (read savings) combining the upfront discovery and strategy with execution may seem a no-brainer. And for small and midsize companies, it’s an easy decision. No subcontractors. But here’s why it’s not a good decision. Marketing and ad agencies are built around “selling” work.  The strategy is often a throw-in.  “Of course we do brand strategy. How could we not?  Our brand position briefs and customer journey docs are the best in the business. Now, let’s talk about the creative.”

In ad agency new business pitches, the creative presentation is set up with a big insight…a big show of brand strategy. But — with a capital B — it always supports the campaign.

When I present brand strategy, it is the star. Executives and owners need to be moved by the claim and proof array. They need to see how claim and proof are organized and fit together. They need to understand the difference between proof and platitude. It’s this organizing principle that makes me family. That makes decision makers know I see the good and the bad.  It’s an empowering moment for clients.

Brand strategy is not a flavor of the day advertising tagline. It never, never should be part of a creative presentation. It needs to steep.

I will not stop trying to sell brand strategy as architecture. By itself. The right way. Companies and brand manager who understand this understand brand craft. And marketing.


P.S.  Wish I was at MerleFest this year. It cleanses the entire soul.

Volkswagen Not Too Big To Fail. For 2 Years.


Volkswagen’s insidious software hack intended to cheat diesel emissions testing is, perhaps, the worst violation of environmental law to date. V-dub is facing huge fines (setting aside US $18B, planning of the worst) and criminal action.  Basically the story is this: When faced with the high cost of new emissions equipment to keep levels legal, Volkswagen decided to create a software hack that momentarily reduced emissions during testing.  

Global warming is a certainty. Smoke stacks pounding the atmosphere with carbons are melting ice caps and f’ing up our ecosystem. Cars and cow ass aren’t helping. Clearly, we have work to do. But Volkswagen leadership doesn’t seem to give a shit. In my book, they are eco-terrorists.

Here’s how I would deal with VW, were I president. Fines in the American tax system are probably tax write-off or work-arounds. I’d give VW a 2 year death penalty in the U.S. Just as we sit athletes for cheating, let’s sit VW. No new car sales in the U.S. for two years.

And don’t tell me it’s harsh. Yeah American VW workers would feel it. Make then keep workers on payroll to an extent. VW is not too big to fail in the U.S. It’s time to take corporate environmental terrorism seriously.



Owen Mack Attack.


afc doctors express

Owen Mack runs a video production company up in Boston. He’s like the guitar player in a rock band you hear once…and know the band is going to be great.  I read about “The Feelies” in New York Magazine once. The 3 line blurb said “white hot” dueling guitars. I went to see them and immediately fell in love. First song. That’s Owen Mack.

The dude has killed it for Dodge Motor Company, craft beer brands, tech companies and lots of others. Check out this series of short vids for AFC Doctor’s Express. It’s a wonderful GIF-inspired short form approach that hits hard at the traditional Emergency Room offering. The use of texting to prove a strategic point and add a touch of humor is really smart. Owen has an eye and an ear second to few. (Props also to agency Sleek Machine.) Owen and his team at CoBrandit are worth a call.

Check ‘em out.  Peace.                                         





Natural Ordering.


My first “real” big advertising job after 10 years at my dad’s shop Poppe Tyson was with McCann-Erickson, NY. The first assignment was on an AT&T network management service called Accumaster. The budget was 2-3 million. Poppe Tyson’s biggest account when I left may have been one million. I went to AT&T in Bridgewater, NJ for the briefing and took lots of notes. My next step was to make a recommendation as to how to handle the campaign. Stoked. My boss at the time was Eric Keshin, a 30-something on fast track to head the NY office.

“I think we need to do a series of 9 ads,” I suggested.  “There are 9 key things that this product does well and it will tell a nice long term story.  A story with lots of chapters.”  Eric responded after quickly reading my notes and recommendation was “Three ads. There are three functional groups here which we can hammer home over time.” BAM.

Eric understood the natural order of selling. He got frequency. He got the consumer attention span. But it wasn’t just the three thing, it was a natural order thing.

Natural order is what brand strategy is all about. It’s why my brand strategies are “1 claim and 3 proof planks.”   I create an organizing principle combining what customers most care-about and what the brand it good-at.  Natural ordering is a skill. It takes experience, instinct, a good ear and selflessness. 





Product Marketing States.


7 11 hot dogs

There are three main product marketing states one confronts when selling. There is pent-up demand, demand, and no demand.  In the first state, the market wants what you sell and there isn’t enough supply.  Or the market wants the functionality, but the product hasn’t been invented yet.  This is every marketer’s dream.  The demand state is the normal market environment. Old supply and demand. People want or need the product and buy it when they run out. Customers may be brand loyal, pocketbook loyal or convenience loyal. Ever eat a 7-11 hot dog? That’s convenience loyal.  Lastly, there is no demand. In this state, consumers may like or want your product – they just don’t know what it does or how they will benefit. This is the most expensive marketing undertaking because money has to be spent educating the market as to the product’s benefits and role. You sometimes have to define for consumers a problem they didn’t know they had — then sell them the solution. A two stepper.

The marketing and advertising response to each of these market states should be very different. The branding (and naming) approach may be different too. So ask yourself marketing dudes and dudettes, in what state is your product?



The Future of an Idea.


My friend Terrence and I once drove to John Hopkins University from NY to see a wonderful panel of physical anthropologists speak. Big, full auditorium.  I was never one of those “ooh, ooh, ooh kids” who asked a lot of questions in class, but during Q&A time, from way in the back of the expansive auditorium, I asked paleontologist Tim White of UC Berkley, how he thought man was currently evolving.  The question got a giggle or two from the room. (Doh!)  He went on to say brains cases would get bigger and women’s birth canals also…

I love to think about what’s next. It suits me well as a brand planner. The future takes up a good deal of my time at What’s The Idea?.

The future of marketing, product and delivery are not always top of mind for clients. It’s a shame. Had Intel thought this way it may not have had to lay off 12,000 worked yesterday.  Healthcare providers need to think about the future, but they don’t; it’s all about the next diagnosis.  Google needs to think forward and it does. But they need to think forward not about cars and energy, but also about their current search focused product line. And monopolies.

The brand strategies I develop always have the future in their peripheral vision. The strategy developed for Northwell Partners nee North Shore LIJ Health System, is as relevant today as it was 15 years ago.  

If your mantra is “Campaigns come and go…a powerful brand idea is indelible,” the work must be future proof.



What goes around…


If you wrote a prescient article in the 90s about the rise and fall of Yahoo! and predicted a future in which the company would go on to be a top 10 trafficked website, a billion dollar advertising juggernaut, hirer of one of Google’s most high-flying executives, and a brand with wonderful ballast – only to be bought by the Yellow Pages, I think you’d have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But that’s what looks to be happening.

A company that started out in search is going to end up in search in a weird turn of events. An organization that was an Original 6 (hockey reference…Go Rangers) tech company, will end up being a publishing company that is a shell of itself.

That said. I wish them well. I hope all alums remember what the early years were like. I sure do.

What goes around comes around. Sometimes.



How Facebook Can Clean Up Mobile Advertising.


I’ve been giving some thought to the sad state of advertising on mobile devices. To quote the Direct TV television campaign, mobile advertising really is being led by “settlers.”   On my mobile for instance, there are banner ads at the bottom of the screen that measure maybe ¼ inch in height. In those ads are pictures, lots of words and, pray tell, a sales message. Other mobile ads include 15 and 30 second TV spots that too frequently infiltrate my media twitches between YouTube views. Why must I watch a :15 just to view a 45 second video? It’s crazy. And text and link ads are ugly and boring — born of the analytics crowd.

There was an interesting article in the NYT today on how media companies and websites are losing traffic and ad dollars to platforms like Facebook. Many news publishers, pressed by economics, are downsizing and thinking about better utilizing other platforms for their content delivery. The Times reports that $.85 of every dollar in internet advertising goes to Facebook and Google.

So here’s my prediction.  At some point Facebook will change its mobile advertising effort over to more of a TV approach. They will sell video spots, not banners or other unsightly clickables, and those spots will be distributed in pods. That is, if you spend 15 straight minutes on Facebook, you will have to sit through two :30 second spots. Spots that are nicely produced. Pretty to look at and entertaining. No clicks needed. You are, after all, using a mobile search without peer. 

Video spots are actually more suited for mobile devices than they are for TV.  

Evolving web advertising to this model will be very disruptive. It will also hasten moving content to Facebook. And it will be messy. Beyond what we can foresee. But it is one way to improve the ad experience. Google cannot play at this time, they need the Fast Twitch nature of the web. YouTube can play as can Netflix. Going to be a wild ride.



Truffle Insights


Brand planning insights are a dime a dozen.  Upper echelon planners know which insights are the truly special ones. They know which to chase and which to leave alone. Insights that change markets are like truffles. Truffle Insights make you sweat. They set off the galvanic skin response.  Truffle insights spark what Maslow referred to as a peak experiences.

I once did a deck while freelancing at JWT on the Microsoft Office business, containing 7 or 8 truffle insights. There were so many the deck got filed.  It impressed but was hard to deal with. Too many truffle insights creates the “fruit cocktail effect,” it tastes good but leaves no visceral differentiation. So savor your truffle insights. Don’t re-bury them.

I’m reading David Brooks’ NYT Op-Ed piece today in which he discusses the 10,000 hour rule researched by Anders Ericsson and written about by Malcolm Gladwell. It suggests 10,000 hours of practice can trump innate intelligence.  Do 10,000 hours make you a truffle insight digger? Not necessarily. But it certainly helps.

If you put in the work and burnish your instincts, you may just becomes an effective truffle insight hunter.