Monthly Archives: July 2016

Northwell Health Gop.


I love the North Shore-LIJ Health System, now called Northwell Health. I’ve invested hundreds of hours helping build the brand and business, beginning in 2000 or about. I’ve been met the organizations best and brightest physicians, administrators, and board members and feel a deep kinship with the brand.  My brand strategy for the system, 15 years old now, has worked through 4 ad agencies and even more campaigns. So it pains me when I read these mission words on a website:

At Northwell Health, we believe every role, every person and every moment matters. We embrace our Culture of C.A.R.E. (Connectedness, Awareness, Respect and Empathy) with our people and the communities we serve and our organization’s values of Caring, Excellence, Innovation and Integrity. This helps us make a powerful and positive impact on our patients’ and customers’ experiences.

There is nothing wrong with a broad mission or even 4-letter acronyms. That said, I suspect this value statement was written by a new ad agent or copywriting employee with no strategic north star. Anyone with the organization for more than a few years, including CEO Michael Dowling, knows this cookie cutter paragraph is on every hospital website, in one form or another, from here to Abu Dhabi.

A brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks) is the mission statement writ small. A mission statement is an expansion of the brand strategy – but this one is not close to the uniqueness that is Northwell Health. It’s gop. Directionless, rudderless gop. Sorry Northwell. You can do — and have done — much better.



Memeable Key Phrases.


Whoever invented the term “keywords” probably worked at Yahoo! in its heyday. Today keywords drive the monstrous SEO/SEM business but are getting out of hand when it comes to bidding wars in the Google-verse.

One of the things I’ve been focusing on with search for my brand consultancy is the “key phrase.”  The memeable phrase.  (FYI, a unique name such as whatstheidea, is a great brand start.) As a daily blogger and original content creator (Google “Posters versus Pasters”), I know that owning key phrases on Google and pointing them to my site is a great long-term traffic builder. Yes, it may take a while. Yes, I could speed it up with a black hat cowgirl at the controls. But I much prefer the slow, steady build. It feels cleaner. 

Key words are easy but lazy. Key phrases are rich, targeted and ownable. Think phrases!





Dispassionate Old Brand Planner.


That’s me. While every strategist of a non-certain age will tell you how passionate they are, I am happy to report the opposite. I am dispassionate.

When passion takes over my rigor, when my thoughts get juiced toward an idea, I need to dial it back and continue to be open-minded. It is way easier-said-than-done. But it works. Short cuts are bad in the brand strategy business. They can feed the idea, but one must let the process play out. Dial back the passion until it’s time to cull the idea.

As for the old, it’s really a state of mind. I’m sixty and to many people that’s old. People look at resume for someone who graduated in the 70s and their right brain takes over. “They must lack energy, are soon to retire, not good with technology.”  Lots of negs.  But from my seat, looking out, I don’t see that at all. Of course, when I go to a Hot Tuna concert, there are a lot of grandparents there. (Hee hee.) From a professional point of view, when I evaluate myself I see a brand planner who has only been practicing for 8 years. Maybe director level.  I see a modestly experienced brand planner with lots of business and life experience.  Maybe a late bloomer. (Prior to brand planning I was an ad agency account  guy.)

So it has been a reboot for me and I wouldn’t change a thing. I enjoy the f*ck out of what I do. Oops, dial back that passion.



A little brand self-analysis.


Were I to conduct discovery on What’s The Idea?, my brand consultancy, and articulate its claim, it would probably be “A powerful brand idea is indelible.”  My email signature and tagline use this statement behind the words “Campaigns Come and go…”

So that a brand strategy isn’t perceived as a one-trick pony, I employ a proof array comprising 3 support planks. This allows for pluralism in the brand story. This allows for a the claim of brand value and, hopefully, superiority to have multiple dimensions. All of which build the case and brand value. (If the claim and proof array theory isn’t working for you, please email for examples.

I’ve never written a brief for What’s The Idea? Amazing! It probably would be a good thought. Shoemakers children and all that.  So sans brief, what might my three proof planks be for the “indelible” idea?  Let’s think on the fly:  

  1. Indelible means Memorable. Easy for consumers to play back, either in conversation or visual imagery.
  2. Emotional. Something that is near to the heart of the buyer. I refer to care-abouts often in my blogging but an emotional care-about trumps a wan care-about any day.
  3. Optimistic. A plank should be positive – toward the category, the purchaser and the marketing order supporting the commerce. Leave bad news for the media. Good news is branding’s purview.

There you have it, 3 proof planks for the powerful “indelible” idea. Now, off to work.



The World Got Flatter.


I write a good deal about pent up demand. When you develop a product or service for which there is pent up demand you tend to ride a nice wave of sales and market share gain. It’s a supply and demand thing. But what happens when you are a “beyond the dashboard” marketer and create a product with no demand at all. I’ve been there. It’s exciting. And nerve-wracking.

Pokemon Go is a product for which there was pent up demand. Maybe. Ish. I spoke to a couple of kids who thought the idea silly – of an age where they tho0ugh tis was not cool. But there are gazillions of kids playing and enjoying it. Not looking over their shoulders, not over-analyzing it; just walking around with a heritage game evolved to use new VR technology.

It’s genius. And transformational. It’s a social computing breakthrough that will change the world.

Stay tuned. The world just got flatter.


Empathy Tactics in Marketing.


I worked on a weight loss modality launch a couple of years ago called Ketofast.  A similar product was marketed in the U.S. called the Bride’s Diet by a physician in Florida. He targeted brides who wanted to lose 10% of their body weight in 10 days. As director of marketing for Ketofast I decided to target the morbidly obese. Big diff.

One of the tactics I suggested in the marketing plan was a film documentary whereby we would follow for ten days (the time of one Ketofast fast) ten people using the weight loss regimen. For all the other ideas in the plan the documentary had the biggest upside for putting Ketofast on the map.  The key to the documentary was a deep dive to generate empathy. By following around morbidly obese and chronicling their lives and the weight loss experience, it would let others suffering from obesity know that someone really cares. That someone is in tune with their very real lives.

Sadly, the launch never happened in the US. But the documentary and, really, the empathy angle has stuck. Every marketing plan needs an empathy tactic. Does your plan have one?




What Pokemon Go Means to Marketing.


pokemon go

I talk about the branding and marketing value of a category or incipient category in which there is “pent up demand.”  The flash boom growth of Pokemon Go is one such example. I know because I live near a park that is a waypoint (gym?) in the VR world that is the game Pokemon Go.  Cops have closed the park entrance, overflow teens and mills walk the streets after dark near the park in hopes of a glimpse of a creature. They break the law, entering the park, after hours just to play. Kids (may I call them kids?), who grew up on sedentary video games, Gameboys, and consoles have been waiting a long time to be unleased. Rather than shoot up bad guys with and against global acquaintances (guns games are becoming passe for kids), they’re actually out and about, meeting people. Virtual world fun in the real world.

In 10 years, many of these kids will be saying about their spouses “Remember meeting while playing Pokemon Go in the East Village?”

Many thought porn would be the first virtual reality (VR) breakthrough. Wrong. It’s promotional gaming.  And we’ve only seen the beginning. Marketers will figure this one out in ways that will reinvent promotion. Imagine developing a game in which you can knock 50% off the price of a TV for a little walking around time investment? This ain’t no “treasure hunt” walk about my friends, it’s a VR learn and share experience that’s going to be a woosh for marketing development companies.

Yesterday my dentist asked me to suggest a good marketing job for an intern. My answer today?  Get a marketing-development job that lets you dabble in VR. Bam!




Would You Like “Trust” With That?


Chipotle is spending a shit ton of money on a short film produced by Creative Artists Agency Marketing with Brittany Howard lead singer of the Alabama Shakes and other bells and whistles in the hope that it can correct is loss of sales (said to be 1/3) due to its tainted food problems of last year.

The New York Times reported the story to day and brand expert William G. Daddi was quoted as saying “Chipotle is trying to reassure its connection to wholesomeness and quality, but it does not address the fundamental issue here, which is a breakthrough of trust between the brand and the target audience, it risks leaving issues unresolved.” He goes on to say the company needs to share what it has done to resolve the problem – and there he is absolutely correct.  But it’s the first part of his quote I take issue with.  That’s the stuff that gives brand people a bad name. A breakthrough of trust?  Chipotle is a fast food restaurant, not a politician. Trust is not a core value of Chipotle. It’s a company that feeds millions of people a day. When it comes to really fresh food – food untainted by preservatives – stuff happens. It’s awful and must be root-caused and fixed, but this is life. Plants die, bacteria lives. Get over it.

What Chipotle needs to be focusing on is what it always has: A mission to deliver fresh, humanely-sourced organic food.  And it needs to demonstrate what it is doing to understand and mitigate problems tied to the contamination. Proof, not a sign-songy story top engender trust.

No one goes to Chipotle for a big honkin’ buritto with red beans, corn salsa and trust.  Fix the problem, share the proof and let’s move on.




Newsday’s New North Star.


Patrick Dolan bought Newsday back from European Telecom company Altice yesterday and so Newsday is in the, tah dah, news. I like the move. Over 15 years ago I wrote the Newsday brand strategy that went on to be its tagline for many years.  It was a tight brand strategy — competitive with the NYT, offered a very home-town and hearth angle, and strong family pull.  The brand claim was “We know where you live.” (A brand strategy remember, is one claim, three proof planks.) The tagline ended up being “It’s where you live.”

By substituting “It’s” for “We know” the strategy was more than partly eviscerated. The emphasis is all wrong. The push back from Newsday was “It’s stawker-ish and creepy. Voyeuristic.”  Too silly for words, was that criticism.  Putting the emphasis on Newsday as a place or community, rather than a journalistic endeavor devoted to understanding what makes Long Islander tick, may sound subtle but it was huge.

We know where you live is a strong today as a claim, as it ever was. Perhaps stronger. As an organizing principle for news, community and digital experience, it is a north star.

Good luck with the ownership Mr. Dolan, let’s talk brand strategy.




In Brand Planning Proof Makes the Pudding.


I was in a meeting earlier this week with a couple of smart agency guys, explaining the exigencies of being a brand strategist. How nobody wakes up in the morning, yawns, and says “I need a brand plan.” Or how the branding business is filled with a small group of people with a special lexicon of marketing and brand gibberish – I call it marko-babble – filled with words like “authenticity,” “brand voice,” “truths,” “journey,” etc. Lots of brand consultants have a process for doing business, but they don’t actually have a framework for what is delivered. Or, a plan for the future.

I do and I explained it: “One claim, three proof planks. This is the organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. The key to my framework is “proof.” I explained to my agency associates that my discovery, research and strategic development all focus on product proof. Proof of what? Good question. It’s not until the proofs are arrayed that the proof of what raises it head.

Proofs tend to be grounded in customer care-abouts and brand good-ats.

One brand planner’s discovery is often much like the next…lots of reading, interviews, primary and secondary research and cogitation. But at What’s The Idea? It is proof that makes the pudding. It is proof that drives the brand strategy.