Monthly Archives: May 2018

“We’re Here” Video.


I write a lot about “We’re Here” advertising.  Typically these ads do little more than tell readers a product names, maybe what it does, and where to find it.  It is the lowest form of advertising.

Yesterday, I watched a video that lasted maybe :90 and it reminded me of We’re Here advertising.  Fairly well produced, it lacked a stout claim and, more importantly, it lacked proof. Effectively, it was a We’re Here video. 

What did the video convey? It explained a particular part of the health care industry today. It shared some trends in healthcare. And a few problems providers are facing related to shrinking fees. Then, in the selling portion of the video, it talked about services provided and benefits resulting from those services, e.g., make more money, improve efficiency.

If “make more money” was the claim, then what the video lacked was “proof” of that claim. There was no evidence. Nothing tangible. You can’t tell a story that is all promise and no substance. All the video had to do was identity one problem, an actionable insight and an outcome.

Consumers are tired of promise. They want proof.



Do Better Starbucks.


Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz, who does an awful lot right as a business person and brand builder, issued a mea culpa in newspapers across the country today for the racially biased incident in one of his Philadelphia stores this past winter. At great expense, Starbucks will close stores today for a half day and provide sensitivity training to all employees. His letter was heartfelt and nicely coiffed, but right out of the PR play book. (No doubt, we all need to be more sensitive to race, gender and sexual proclivity… and we could all use a little training. It’s the biggest global issue of the day.)

But it’s my belief Mr. Shultz should have used a different tactic to “prove” the company’s commitment to improving race relations and sensitivity.  He could have hired more black people. Put a race sensitivity suggestion box in the stores. Developed a new customer greeting that celebrated inclusion. More inclusive store artwork. Changed a business behavior.

The apology letter is nice but consumers are inured to the tactic. It has become a check box. Training, too, is good but it’s a one-timer.

This is complex shit. But a good coffee is complex and you figured that out. Do Better Mr. Schultz.




Think like a custie.


I wrote a biz/dev letter to a nearby digital agency yesterday pitching them on what I hope to be an interesting digital media planning tool. I call it Twitch Point Planning. (Google it for an explanation.)  Mindful of being brief in my pitch, I chose my words carefully and toplined what Twitch Point Planning IS and what Twitch Point Planning DOES. My typical “Is-Does” frame for explain brands and new products.  

What I neglected to do, while mired in my need to explain the product, was tell the reader what benefit accrued to them. I suspected that by making clear the innovativeness of the product, the benefit would be implicit. Wrong. I didn’t think like a custie.

In a much less ham-handed way I should have opened my missive with a claim about “a new revenue stream” for todays digital economy or another reader-centric idea. Only then should I have explained the Is-Does. Rather than getting all caught up in my underwear, I should have planned my outfit.

Think like a custie and raise your odds of cutting through.




Branding’s False Gods.


In a nutshell, my framework for brand strategy can be described as “one claims and three proof planks.”  What’s a proof plank?  It’s a series of like-minded examples or proofs. Tangible, intelligible evidence. If I make a claim I am strong, proof of that claim is me picking up 300 pounds.  When a restaurant says the food tastes good, you trot out the James Beard Award of its chef. A proof plank is tied inexorably to the brand claim and contains a list of proofs.

This is where most brand building falls down. Lack of proof.

Many brand nerds will tell you that brand success lies in understanding and promoting brand “Values” and/or “Attributes.”  Values and attributes are the false Gods of branding.  They sound good in meetings. Present well in analytics presentations. They are even measurable for infatuated data heads.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve build brands by doting on research report attributes. But the fastest way to positive attribute movement is through proof. The advertising business is infected with copy that is insubstantial. Copy filled with sing-songy value blather. Filled with empty adjectives.

Stick to proof, find your claim and proof array, and then you will have a real marketing job.



Transparency and Authenticity.


I’m reading a book by Daniel Lubetzky, the social entrepreneur who started Kind Healthy Snacks. There is no arguing with his story, his business strategy (to create businesses that unite politically disparate people), or products. Therefore, there should be no arguing with is book. His ten principles for success are just fine.  One principle Mr. Lubetzky writes about, however, is “Transparency and Authenticity.”  I spend a good deal of time railing against these two words in this blog because for me they are the price of admission in branding. If you have to use them, you are playing defense not offense.

Then this morning I was reading a NYT piece about Donald Trump’s approach to deal making. Now I get all the fuss about “T and A.”  To be transparent and authentic one must basically tell the truth.  There should be no omission, no mis-direction. Just overt truths. Mr. Trump, who had built a global brand of some repute, does not practice transparency or authenticity. His mish mash of unstable declarations, retractions, air horn bullying and effusive staff “good doggies” makes it awfully hard to understand the man and his logic.

So I’ve come around on “T and A.”  The words are important in politics but not in branding, where these tenets are expected.  Let’s just spend our time and money supporting truths and nothing but the truths.   




The YouTube Music Brand.


YouTube Music relaunches tomorrow with one of the worst brand extension names ever. YouTube was born as a video channel — a pretty amazing brand in and of itself. Over the years it has developed into a powerhouse in the mobile music and streaming realm, yet along with YouTube Red and Google Play Music has conflated a bunch of names into a “fruit cocktail effect” of product(s).

YouTube and Google should have launched a totally new brand this week — eaten some of their children and come out of the gate with a brilliant new music product (service.)  I don’t see Steve Jobs skeeving up his brandscape like this? (Well maybe a little.)

First, the brand should have jettisoned the YouTube name. Spotify and Pandora are already established and have powerful brand names. Abigail Posner, Head of Creative Strategy & Head of Creative Effectiveness, at Google knows this.  In my opinion, she needs to head to San Bruno today and get the YouTube people on board. It is a brilliant opportunity. A brilliant brand possibility.

Build the biggest music brand extant!




How Long Is A Piece Of String?


Have you ever wondered how the men and women who do financial reporting write headlines for daily stock market results? On in today’s NYT read “Tech and Health Care Firms Lean Broad Rally.”  Some of it is pretty easy: They look at the big winners and losers and simply declaim.  It’s data centric.

When less clear cut they need to put on analytical thinking caps, telling us how various market factors impacted buying and selling. Housing starts. Fed reports on interest rates. Impending wars.  This approach relies on implications and deductions about data and facts.  But what happens when the data is contradictory? How do they come up with a headline?  That’s what master brand planning is.  (Master brand planning drives all brand activities; not just daily marketing and communications tactics.)

Master brand strategy is never clean and tidy.  There are always scads of factors. Lots of data. Lots of targets. Everything has to go into the stock pot for the brand boil down.  Headline writers have a half day to write financial report ledes. Brand planners don’t have that luxury. We have to write a headline that encapsulates past, current and future value and our deadline is presentation day. I sometime envy reporters with more exact deadlines.



The Customer-Facing Fallacy.


Customer-facing research is often undertaken by consultants. Outsiders. Pollsters. Research analysts. But who are the real customer-facing experts? The employees who actually face customers. All those employees.

Many marketing organizations go straight to consumers to find out about the customer experience.  Certainly, a great place to start. But when talking about presenting a face to the customer, it’s the company’s own “servers” that are most important. They are the ones we should be studying. What language are they using? How do they build trust? Acceptance?  How do the best customer-facing people do compared with the least effective?  And I’m not talking only about selling. I’m talking satisfaction. I’m talking problem resolution. I’m talking smiling custies.

The term customer-facing is used often in the marketing department. Why is it we rarely actually study the people whose faces are in the faces of the customers?



How to Handle A PR Disaster.


Nike is parting ways with 11 top executives in the face of an employee survey pointing to sexual harassment in the workplace. Facebook is reorganizing into three divisions to put senior management eyes closer to the work areas that have been a little lax in the security department.  It seems that firing and reorganizing are the reflexive methods of apologizing for public company problems.  Other typical tactics include NYT and WSJ apology letter ads and training days (see Starbucks).

Customer-facing business change is best served cold. Not right away. Business change needs to be properly thought out. Not knee-jerk. Poorly thought out change can be more disastrous than the disaster. Nike needs to live its shame for a while. As does Facebook. They need to publish and discuss what they’ve found and how they are going to deal with it. Most PR people will tell you to do something quick and put it to bed. I disagree. Companies need to spend more time living, learning and grieving. Glossing over big mistakes is a big mistake.

Act like a human and you can come back from it. Endure the shame, study it, heal – then move on.



Is-Does at Work.


I was sitting in a living room a few years ago in Brownsville Brooklyn at the home of the head of a local non-profit.  There were volunteers there from all walks: educators, musicians, politicians, activists, neighbors and me. The organization, Bailey’s Café, for which I ultimately wrote a brand brief, did what I called “Good’s Work.”

The meeting started off with intros and backgrounds, and then surrounded by markers and large paper pads we got down to strategy work. The marketing guy who called the meeting, had never really done a session like this before it seemed, and asked where we wanted to start. Pin drop time. And so you know, Bailey’s Café helps underserved children and elders within the community by putting on programs, tending a community garden, fostering green issues and recycling, music and art appreciation, young girl issues and way way more. The missions of Bailey’s Café were, needless to say, varied.

To break the silence I suggesting we play the Is-Does game. We went around the room and asked “What Bailey’s Café Is” and “What Bailey’s Café Does.”  It got the room energized and began many conversations and discussions.

In brand strategy, the Is-Does is a great place to start.