Monthly Archives: November 2016

Brand Compliance Officer.


Compliance is a medical term with huge impact on patient outcomes. Patients who comply with prescription drug plans, treatment modalities and lifestyle changes live healthier lives.  

Compliance is also a word that comes up in brand strategy discussions. Brand strategy, an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging, guides commerce in very predicable ways. And if compliance is high, success is high.

How does a company insure brand strategy compliance? One way is to install a Brand Compliance Office. Typically, this function would lie with the Chief Marketing Officer. But the realities of managing revenue growth, marketing spend, staff and profit don’t really allow time for compliance. The title of brand manager might suggest someone who looks after compliance, but they don’t wield the power. It a “herding cats” type of job. And some cats are way up the corporate ladder.

A Brand Compliance Officer needn’t be a 6 figure job but it’s an important job. Appointing someone to watch over internal stakeholders and make them comply with the plan is a sure-fire way of strengthening brand, sales and margin.




4 Types of Brand Planner.


One of my memes on the web is “beyond the dashboard planner.”  (I’m first in Google yet my goal is to be first with “beyond the dashboard.”  So on I type.)

The planning and strategy business is parsed into 4 approaches. The biggest segment is the Rearview Mirror planner — those who look at what has gone before to help plan the future. The second segment is the Side View Mirror planner, who looks backward but also at the fast approaching from the rear.  Think Anheuser Busch/InBev watching the smaller but quickly growing craft beer category. Then comes the fairly new school category called Dashboard planners. Those of the Moneyball or 538 Blog data jockey school. Viewers of “the data and nothing but the data.”

Beyond the Dashboard planners look back. They also at the fast approaching and statistical. But then they do something smart with the learning. They think primarily about the future.  That dark-bright place where nobody’s ever been.  Yes, it’s scary. But, oh so human. It’s where all the big whooshes in business are born.  

Every big brand needs a beyond the dashboard planner.




Branding Polemics.


I saw the word polemic in an article about the alt-right and had to use it in a post. I’m a brand polemist. At What’s The Idea? brand strategy is defined as an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  In and of itself, that is controversial. Many brand agencies don’t consider product or experience in their work, they cut straight to messaging. 

When brand strategy involves product it means the claim and proof planks inform product features, composition, even formula. When brand strategy relates to experience, it informs in-store, customer journey, website content and usability. It may involve media usage, e.g., Twitch Points (Google it). But mostly, brand strategy is about messaging, advertising, campaigns and communications.   The comms and graphic presentation of a brand being the bread and butter of the branding business.

The contrarian polemic is one that puts product and experience on par, or even ahead, of messaging. Get the first two right and the last one has to follow.



Branding and Terrorism.


The Nusra Front, a Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate, has rebranded (the NYT words, not mine) as the Levant Conquest Front.  Never in my lifetime has branding been more life and death. With the rebranding, which will heretofore be referred to as renaming, the Levant Conquest front has stated it is a local terrorist organization, targeting only the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. It no longer intends to target the west. It would not surprise me if this announcement was made via a press release. Such is the social media and terror media today.

After 5 billion words, America’s news media can’t even decides what to called ISIS; often referring to it by all three recognized names (ISIL and Daesh being the other two).

The fact that branding has now found its way into terrorist circles may sicken but it does explain the sophistication of networks, recruiting and geo-political posturing.

Moving forward, I refuse to use the word “brand” in association with terror groups. I wish the media would join me. It tarnishes a business that is all about hope and possibility.

Peace. For reals.        


Wendy’s Latest Brand Mistake.


wendys_mascot_logo“Quality is our recipe” is the new tagline for fats food chain Wendy’s. It adorns all the stores. Quality is an industrial word. It’s not a food word. If you go to a Lidia Bastianich or Eric Ripert restaurant you’re not going to savor a meal and talk quality.

The key to branding is finding the right “claim” and proving it every day. I use three proof planks to support the claim. Three provides focus. Were I to parse the quality claim for Wendy’s I might select “ripeness” for vegetables, “natural” for ingredients, e.g., less additives, few GMOs, real sugar, and “immaculate facilities.” I’m just riffing here but you might actually build a nice story with this strategy. The problem, however, is the word quality. A far as claims go, it’s in the neighborhood, but a Norwegian neighborhood.  Quick, name a tasty Norwegian food.

Brand strategy claims need poetry. Humanity. They need aspiration and emotion. Wendy’s can do better. This is a company that has always been ad campaign driven, not brand strategy driven.      



Service Company Branding.


Over the last 30-40 years the business environment has evolved from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. We are making a lot less things and selling a lot more service, software and subscription. If you ask a small service economy business owner, say, in the financial planning business, if her company has brand, she is likely to say “yes.” On probe, she’ll offer up her company name. Maybe logo. Even $75 million companies in the service sector would agree they have a brand. But ask the CEO or marketing director and you’d get the same answer: name and logo.

The fact is, most service companies don’t get branding. Sure, they understand signage, advertising and graphic standards, but they don’t know it to be the “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” branding really is.

When your business, as my dad used to say, goes up and down in the elevator every day, it’s hard to see it as a brand rather than a group of people. But, oh, it is. Service companies have a leg up on product companies, because unlike products, people are living, breathing, intelligent beings with friends. But service economy companies need strategies. Brand strategies.

For examples of service economy brand strategies, please email




Brand Crest.


coat-of-armsCenturies ago, well-to-do European families had family crests. Crests were actually helmet ornaments for you historians, but for the purpose of this post I’m going to make synonymous crests with heraldry or paper heraldry. Here is a Wikipedia definition of Heraldry.

The beauty and pageantry of heraldic designs allowed them to survive the gradual abandonment of armour on the battlefield during the seventeenth century. Heraldry has been described poetically as “the handmaid of history”, “the shorthand of history”, and “the floral border in the garden of history”. In m bit more modesty. Hee hee.

Brand managers, ask yourselves to develop a crest for your brand. What pictures would you use? What are your brands’ most famous and motivatinodern times, heraldry is used by individuals, public and private organizations, corporations, cities, towns, and regions to symbolize their heritage, achievements, and aspirations.

The brand planning rigor here at What’s The Idea? works hard to identify “heritage, achievement and aspiration.”  These things are the groundwork for brand planning and contribute to the “one claim and three proof plank” strategy construct. The claim and proof array align nicely with the crests and heraldic designs of yore…but, perhaps, with ag achievements?



Insights and Briefs.


tighty-whitiesI love my briefs.  Not tighty whities  or bike shorts. Brand briefs.  I’ve got a million of them on the hard drive. What gets my engine going when reading old briefs are the insights.  Insights about targets, consumer desires, claims and proof arrays.  Insights are the stim creative people crave.  When well done, insights wrapped in a poetic, meme-able packages, light fires under art directors, copywriters and creative directors.  

Insights are catalysts supporting the brand idea. A good brief will offer up multiple insights – but it’s the creatives who figure out which are most actionable, motivating and fanciful. 

Early on I recognized I’m only about 15% creative. I’ve worked with, studied, and stalked some of the great creative minds in the business. I’m not them and never will be. Being a diagnostician and insight doctor is the next best thing.

My old briefs remind me of the love. Campaigns come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.

Peace, in this “post truth” campaign world.



Breaking a Brand Strategy Rule.


A few years ago I worked with a single store retail engagement ring outlet to develop a brand strategy. After much digging, discussion and thought it occurred to me that for this particular brand “amazing engagement rings are born (not bought).” That was the idea.

The target on my brief was “couturing brides to be” because they were not the type to want an off-the-shelf ring.  They were more emotional, even fussy. For them the ring was a deep symbol of their love.

This ring purveyor had developed a process that was broken down into three stages – which I liked to a baby’s birth: conception, gestation and delivery. The one hour conception or consultation stage was like foreplay, filled with desire and intimacy. The gestation period included stages of viewing, understanding and nurturing – between woman and designer. It included trying on wax ring molds for fit, stone placement and style. And delivery was a celebration of the actual casting and stones. Always ready for complications, the birth of the rings was seen as life-changing. Amazement was key to this part of the process.

The brand strategy claim (amazing engagement rings are born) and planks (conception, gestation and birth) focus on  a process. The strategy positioned around a process.

Mostly when I talk about brand strategy, I talk about care-abouts and good-ats. This one was unique. Though the process was a brand good-at, consumers weren’t sure it was a care-about. Sometimes you have to go off-piste in brand strategy. This was one of those times.