Monthly Archives: August 2016

Take Your Child to Work Day.


take your child to work day

This is a story I have posted about before but it’s worth repeating. I worked as marketing director at an Ed Tech (educational technology) company a while back had to put together a talk for “Take Your Children to Work” day. The warehouse, call center, installers, professional development departments all had to do a few minutes on what mommy and daddy did. Close your eyes and imaging 60 kids sitting on a conference room floor listing to a discussion of HR. The kids were also going to tour the departments and walk through each part of the building.  A long, long day to fill.

So how does one ‘splain marketing to a disinterested kid sitting on a floor waiting for recess or snack?

“Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a lemonade stand?”

“Marketing is all the decisions you have to make in order to sell the lemonade. Are you going to use a package mix or real lemons?  How are you going to keep the ice cold?”  That’s Product of the “Four “Ps” of marketing. “How much are you going to charge for the lemonade?  Twenty five cents or a dollar?” Price. “What should the sign say? And where should you put the sign(s)? How big should the letters be on the sign?” Promotion. And lastly, “Where should you put your stand? In front of your house or on the corner, near two streets?” Place.

Always know your audience and speak to them in terms they understand.  Not in terms you understand.  Okay, it’s cookie time.



Brand Strategy for Startups.


How do you make something out of nothing?  That’s the question for the brand planner when working on a startup. 

When I was hire #1 at Zude as marketing director, brand strategy was one of my jobs.  I didn’t start brand planning in earnest for months while the CTO and CEO were building, raising and creating the physical business.  In previous blog posts I’ve suggested the first thing one must do when developing brand strategy for a start-up is “follow the patent.”  I stand by that. 

Startups, as you know, are quite fluid. It’s product and code first, business requirements second. And what the build is one day it may not be the next. So when it comes to customer care-abouts, that’s the easy part – unless you are breaking new functional ground. It’s the brand good-ats that are hard.  There are none.

So what does the brand planner do at this stage? Keep following the patent.  Have daily observation and update sessions with development team, even for a few minutes.  Insinuate yourself into the product development process in a positive way. Offer help as needed. Do not get in the way of the creativity. Provide marketing stim to the team — subconsciously, it can help.  And continue to play back (to the dev team) any recurring patterns that smell like good-ats.

It’s a gnarly time. Work to enjoy it.


The Big Data Oy!


mount hood

I worked at a web start-up a few years ago that offered users a free way to build web pages without code. It was called Zude. We had two rounds of funding, about $10M, and were often covered by Tech Crunch, Scobleizer and GigaOm and ReadWrite Web. The business monetization model was tied to advertising. An afterthought really. Let’s face it, in the web world advertising is everyone’s go-to monetization.

There is an important competing force for monetization today in the start-up world and that is marketing data. Marketing data is not served, viewed, or clicked. It is sold. As behavior, demographics and proclivities. For future use.

When What’s App sold to Facebook it probably assumed advertising would be in its future. It marginally may have thought selling data would be in its future. But, now, the time has come.

Advertising is an opt-in thing. Personally data is not. Not really. Data will become more and more of a privacy issue. Millennials say “Go ahead sell my data,” now. But when they season a bit more, they’ll realize privacy is way more important than seeing advertising.

Data vs. advertising is the new battlefield.

If you put all the paper Americans receive in direct mail and catalogs in a pile, for one year, you’d create Mount Hood (I just made that up, please don’t fact check it.) Imagine what spam folders, robo calls, door knockers and TV ads will look like when data really catches on. Oy!


Beating Seth Godin.


seth godin

I was at a meeting in the city with one of my mentors Robin Hafitz at a coffee/chocolatier when in walks Seth Godin. Seth’s kind of a hero of mine. I attended a group seminar paid for by client Windham Mountain when Seth operated out of a building next to railroad tracks in Westchester County. Every time a train went by Seth had to stop talking…Zen Master he.

Mr. Godin has been blogging successfully about branding and marketing for a long, long time. What’s The Idea? has published daily since January 2007. He makes me look like a slacker.

One morning I decided it might be fun to do a daily dance off with Mr. Godin. That is, I’d like to ask him if we might create a site where side-by-side blog posts are published and readers vote for the preferred post. They might be organized on a similar topic, as determined by hashtags. The results are likely to be similar to that of Food Network show “Beating Bobby Flay,” but what the heck.

Now I just have to get the nerve up to ask him. I’ve started the email once or twice before and chickened out.



Organizing Principle.


Many people in the advertising, marketing and branding business get tongue-tied when asked to define branding.  Or brand for that matter. We come up with short pithy things such as “A brand is a vessel into which we pour meaning.”  For years, that was actually one of my favorites.   As a consultant with some clients falling into the mid-size business category, I need something more tangible. “Organizing principle” are the two words I use most often now. The extended version is “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  It’s a nice definition – perhaps the best I’ve come across. It defines branding – the verb for used for manage the brand (noun).

But an organizing principle as a descriptor doesn’t really provide pay-off or consummation of the act. It’s just the theory. It is the framework of the organizing principle that makes believers out of brand manager. And the frame work at Whats’s The Idea? is “one claim, three proof planks.” These are the parameters of the organizing principle. The tangible guidance.

Many brand planners love fluidity. They enjoy freedom for their ideas. I enjoy the freedom of a plan, a focus, and a finite value array for doing more business. That’s what an organizing principle does. Peace.



Marketing Voice Archetypes.


There are three marketing voice archetypes. A marketing voice being a conduit that motivates others, convincing them toward thought, position or action. The archetypes are The Smart, The Persuasive, and The Forgivably Charismatic.

The Smart voice is convincing just on the sheer power of its brains. The recall of facts and figures, the logic with which it presents views, the scientific supports for the arguments, all make believers out of us. You believe the voice and appreciated its calm and comfortable demeanor.

The Persuasive voice may not come off as brainiac but everything it says, every story it tells, augers toward reason. It lays out a point of view almost musically as it builds toward a crescendo. The persuasive voice brackets the argument from all angles so the listener feels there are no gaps. The persuader voice is great at reading the audience – knowing when to accelerate and/or when to stop.

The Forgivably Charismatic voice seems smart and is certainly persuasive, but you sometimes know it shines the truth with a special polish. And you don’t even mind. Some examples, apocryphal though they may be, are just storytelling fun. And forgivable. This archetype is the most entertaining. The listener is most engaged with this voice and feels the least manipulated. You may not buy a house from this voice or follow it into battle, but you happily appreciate the point of view and the work that went into it.

All these archetypes have their place. But they can’t be mixed and matched. Any crossover and the listeners head goes to mush. (What archetype befits this post?)







Claim Right, Proof Righter.


Consumers are smart. And inured to marketing claims. Advertising, the home of the marketing claim, has become that guy at the party who talks about himself in glowing terms in order to get the girl. Full of himself, boastful and proud. But consumers have seen so many of these f shallow claims they shut them off.  That’s why good brand planning uses proof as its foundation. Proof is what people remember.

I have a past client in the healthcare space who has decided to move into the health insurance business. He begins as the rest of the industry is consolidating or retreating. A number of insurers today are pulling out of insurance exchanges fueling the Affordable Care Act. So, the big guys are complaining they’re not making money and one little guy is starting anew.  I like it.

The CEO is a physician, so I know he’ll take the physicians view of the business. This could very easily be a premium price play, but rather doubt it. The CEO is knows for efficiency, technology and driving cost out of the business (while improving outcomes). So I’m eager to see what he has up his sleeve. I’m eager to see the proof.

There is a health system insurance program called CareConnect in the NY market with a 10-15% price advantage. Proof or reason to believe that advantage comes from its parent Northwell Health. He will have a tough row to hoe but I’m betting on him. As a physician, he understands proof.

You have to get the claim right but you have to get the proofs righter.




The Lake House


There’s a wonderful restaurant in Bay Shore, NY called The Lake House.  Bay Shore is where the Fire Island Ferries take vacationers across the Great South Bay to a number of lovely Fire Island communities.  The Lake House used to be a small, cozy fine dining eatery perched on a lake. The Lake House serves great food and with business being good the owners decided to move to a bigger location. Smart business idea.  

I’m sure they invested millions to update the old mainland “Flynn’s,” located on a prime location on the Bay — a location that laid fallow for decades. The new building looks great. That said, The Lake House is not on a lake anymore. It’s on a saline body of water the rivals the Chesapeake in its richness and local glory. The Lake House is on the bay.

I understand brand equity. I really do. But the owners are not looking beyond the dashboard with their brand strategy they are doing rearview mirror planning. I wish the establishment the best, they deserve it. But the restaurant and brand also deserve a new, more fitting name.  Happy to help.  I’ve been known to work for beer and appetizers.





Competition and the Agency Holding Company.


The other day I read AT&T was moving all of its advertising business to Omnicom. No doubt the reason undergirding the move was economies of scale. One of the public explanations for Omnicom winning the business was “integration” of programs and ideas. That is to say the new media agency “nuts and honey” or some such and super shop BBDO will work together closely, in an aligned fashion, to insure the ideas they presented as a team in the pitch are structurally recreated IRL (in real life).

This age old strategy sounds great on paper. And as we get more mature as an industry the strategy will actually work. But there are two conflicting forces against a move like this. Ferocious competition and complacence. When one entity is in charge, time and comfort engender complacence. BBDO will churn out nice work, great work even…Hearts and Science (the media company) will plan and digitize its ass off…to a point. The paranoia, however, that keeps shops on their toes dissipates.

The energy that has shops like Anomaly, Droga and Preacher slamming, is lost.  Not a fan of the big consolidation move. Competition is what marketers thrive on. So must its shops.




Brand Strategy Tarot Cards.


tarot cards

I have a neat idea for a “What’s The Idea?” promotion.  (Disclosure: What’s The Idea? is an open source company, believing strategy frameworks should be open and shared.) The promotion is called “Brand Strategy Tarot Cards”  but the idea needs a little help from friends and friendettes, as Rohsaan Roland Kirk might have put it. So feel free to weigh in.

The promotion offers a free 1-hour brand strategy assessment to help marketers better understand their current brand position – or lack thereof.

In a traditional tarot card reading, three cards are turned over. In a Brand Strategy Tarot Card reading, I will turn over 6 cards. But they won’t actually be cards, they’ll be pieces of marketing content. 

Here are a couple of content types I’m thinking about:

  1. Press release boiler plate (first sentence and About paragraph). 
  2. Website Homepage and About page copy. (We’ll use the home page if About is the same as boilerplate.)
  3. Text from a CEO speech or introductory sales presentation.
  4. Most famous ad or blog post. 
  5. LinkedIn posts or last company Tweet.  
  6. Company mission statement.

My intent is to turn these content pieces over in front of the CMO, one at a time, read them aloud and interpret them in real time. At the end of the reading, aggregate observations will be shared and if I’m able to see a pattern, a meme-able brand position will be offered.

So planners, any thoughts as to other brand strategy tarot cards I might use?