Monthly Archives: July 2018



As a kid in the business I read a great book on business to business advertising. It gave an example of what a purchasing agent is up against when buying an expensive piece of industrial equipment. The agent puts together a side-by-side chart of all the specs and benefit statements for the two final vendors under consideration.  More often than not, commerce being what it is, it’s a draw. The book suggested, absent a clear winner, the logical mind takes over. The personal logical mind, that is. In order to make a decision with so many variables, the purchaser decides which of the variables is most important. Which of the 20-30 variables is the one upon a which the decision will be made.

I was reading about Harvard’s selection process yesterday and it’s pretty complicated.  SAT scores, other testing scores, GPA, ethnicity, alumni parents, future ability to donate, interview performance essay, geo-social background are all evaluated. Not unlike the chart from the book. Choices.

Brand strategy development is not dissimilar. We look at a multitude of “care-abouts” and “good-ats” and decide how to best organize the selling principle. Brand strategy helps marketers make the tough choices. It helps brands make the right choices.



Craft Brewery Brand Management.


I wrote yesterday about how beer taps should be used as brand instruments to build fealty, affinity and loyalty.  There was a time when the beer brand was more important than the brewer. As evidenced by my post yesterday, it seems the brewer portfolio has become more important than the individual beer brand – especially in this craft brewing led market.

Anheuser-Busch/InBev, MillerCoors and the other beer holding companies are sharpening their investments by buying craft brewers.  It seems variety is the spice of the balance sheet these days. When I look at a craft brewer, as both a drinker and brander, I ask about the flagship beer.  The one that sets the tone for the brewer.  Typically that’s the label with the highest gross sales. For BluePoint Brewing is it’s Toasted Lager. For Highland Brewing, Gaelic Ale. For Goose Island, it’s namesake Goose IPA. There has to be an alpha brand. And I start from there.

Smart brewery marketers want consumers to order a “Toasted Lager,” “Gaelic Ale” or “Goose IPA.”  They don’t want them to order the mother ship.  As craft brewers get more sophisticated, they will hire brand managers for each label. And then it’s on.



Beer Taps and Branding.


I had a discussion with an Asheville, NC brewer last year who was in the process of doing a brand redesign with a branding shop based in Texas. They did a lovely job, by the way. The topic of taps came up — taps being the long ceramic bar-top devices used to pour beer.

Having poured a little beer at the Bluepoint Brewery taproom back in the day, I recognized up close how tap designs can be a cool branding “thing.”  Bluepoint, I was told, used a California-based tap manufacturer and paid a handsome price per piece. Each tap had a unique grab, including mermaids, monks, Rastafarians, lighthouses, buoys, etc.  All distinct and memorable.  When I shared this with the Asheville brewer, who perhaps had been bitten a little too hard by the branding bug, she suggested the lack of brand continuity was a weakness.  

Out for a quaff last Friday at the Mellow Mushroom, a local joint with over 100 beers on tap, I noticed about 5 or 6 of the local brewer’s beer taps. All had the same logo, all had the same block letter typeface for the beer name, all sporting a different color for package differentiation. Very corporate. Very easy to read. Beer personality: Zero.

Blue Point got it right. Each beer is a brand. Each should be celebrated as such at the local watering hole. Peace.


Dump Some Marketing Cache.


The lifeblood of my business is contacts. When I’m in full-blown biz/dev mode I’m emailing lots of people I know and many I’d like to know.  Cold emails have been a building block of What’s The Idea?. If you’ve been on the receiving end you know what I’m talking about.

My intent with email solicitation is to be personal, business specific and very much “not about me.” The value I hope to produce is value on the topic of branding that speaks to the reader from their point of view.

If I write about “you” and things of interest to “you,” I may get your attention.

As an outbound writer of business development emails, I have open eyes and ears to other sellers. Therefore, I subscribe to many, many email lists and am a member of more websites than most. Sadly, I allow most of these emails to clutter my in box with nary an open. It’s time to unclutter.

Today I’m going on a crusade to unsub all the flah flah flah. Maybe it will save a tree or a planetary degree. If the email sender does not start sharing real value in my email box — value to me not them — they are gone.

Maybe next I’ll start to unfriend Twitter followers.

Dumping a little marketing cache ain’t a bad thing. Peace.


Can People Be Brands?


An entertainer contacted me about a year ago, inquiring about branding. Pretty smart inquiry. 

I remember pushing back when Kim Kardashian and others referred to themselves as brands – and I’m still a little leery. That said, this entertainer did need some help. As I thought more about it, the job really is about packaging. He had a stage act and from what I was told it was quite good. So what kind of packaging would set this act apart?  If we delved into “good-ats” and “care-abouts,” as we would with any brand strategy, we could certainly craft a name.  We’d obviously need a brief for that, buoyed by a claim.  (I thought of James Brown’s claim “The hardest working man ins show business.”) Then we’d define his proof planks – another part of the personal brand strategy to help organize everything – act included.

Lastly, we could dabble in his stage clothing (costume?), intro music, color palette and persona.  Have you ever seen Sebastian Maniscalco? That’s a persona. 

I’ve never done a brand strategy for a person. For a product, service, company — sure. But a  person, no. Looks like I might get a chance.  He called yesterday.  



Lazy Comms. (A Discussion of Repetition versus Education.)


Repetition is an old saw in the advertising business. Reach and frequency being words we grew up on. Reach is the total target you hit with a message and frequency is the number of times it was seen by said target.  If you bonk people on the head enough times with your message, they’ll remember it, the logic goes. “Give us 15 minutes, we’ll save you 15% on your car insurance,” for instance. Repetition.

Education is another way to also gather attention. Tell someone something interesting, something they didn’t know, and they’ll work to retain it. Fill up space in the gray matter cache…it sticks. In brand strategy, I’m a big fan of education.  Remember back in the day when you used to defrag your computer?  Maximizing space by removing empty spots in the drive? Closing up duplicates?  That’s what learning does. Interesting, new information makes the brain work. It makes the brain conclude. That’s how information rises to the top.

If your marketing communications aren’t educating, they’re lazy comms.




Proof Workshop.


My branding thesis is built upon the idea that 90% of marketing communications is hot air. That leaves only 10% for the good stuff: real selling. Also known as “proof” of value. In an ad brief, this might be referred to as “reasons to believe.”

Listen to a :60 second radio commercial and pull out the words that are real proof of value. A typical :60 has about 150 words. You’ll find a number of few words that purport value, e.g., best service, highest quality, scrumptious taste, but very few words of proof of value. Words that make you believe.

To prove my point, I have decided to offer up for a limited time a “Proof Workshop” to interested marketers and brand managers.  The workshop will be offered free of charge to qualifying marketing organizations. During the workshop we will go through marketing collateral, ads, PR releases, web content and point-of-sale materials to determine what’s proof and whats not. The workshop will last 90 minutes.

Along the way we may even find some proof clusters that point to an actual brand strategy.

The phones are open (516-967-3875.) So is email:




Deeds Trump Words.


My brand briefs are filled with heart-warming, heart wrenching twists of a phrase. They are meant to engage the Amygdala.  Trust me, they work when it comes to selling brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks.) But unless you are Bob Dylan no consumer is going to remember your poetic brand claim and proof array. They may remember a song from an ad. They may remember a tagline plastered everywhere locked up with your logo. But for lasting impact and indelible brand strategy, choose deeds over words.  Deeds and evidence.

The New York Yankees are a premier sports franchise because of their 27 world championships. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is “the best cancer care anywhere” (words) because its physicians have more experience treating cancer (deeds).

When companies bring their brands to me for help positioning, I look for deeds, evidence and proof. That’s the ore that precedes the jewelry.



The “H” Word.


In the toast at my daughter’s wedding I plan on sharing a smidgeon of marital and parenting advice. A brand planner by trade, I make a living observing behavior then packaging it into small, memorable bits of advice.

Toast advice number 1. Don’t use the “H” word.  Both my kids should remember this one; it’s good counsel for marriage and parenting. The “H” word is the ugliest of words. More harmful than the “F” bomb and all of its scatological allies. The “H” word is the root of the word hatred… and no good comes of it. Even if you don’t like peanut butter – perhaps it causes a physical reaction – it’s not worthy of hatred.  Nor is a poor movie or book. Nor a villain. These are things one might not like, but certainly don’t merit hatred. (How many Eskimo words are there for snow?) 

Hatred and the “H” word are a blight on humanity. Yes, humanity kills. Yes, we destroy mother earth. We are jealous, we are covetous. But we needn’t minimize the root cause — using the word in our everyday language.

Start fixing ourselves. Stop using the “H” word.



Active Discovery.


I’d like to say when it comes to brand planning my philosophy is “listening” but it’s not. Many will tell you the best cultural anthropologists are listeners, observers and silent recorders of behavior. They are.

Many brand planners today are expert listeners but not all see. Watching confirms what the ears hear. Observing can add great texture to the person interviewed.  One question I used to ask job seekers when interviewing in the ad business — after a few minutes of the interview — was, “Tell me about me.” (I almost invented the “me too” movement with the question one time, but that’s a story for another day.) The intent was to see if the candidate had any observations about my office, tidiness, books I read, etc. Non-verbal learning.

Anyway, I’ve found that the quietude that happens when one only asks a question and listens can suck the air out of an interview. A good brand planner animates. Laughs out loud. Play acts what a consumer might say or do.  It’s okay to interrupt and interject. Most of all a good interviewer shows interest. Makes the candidate some alive. Adding a pulse to a convo can move things in new directions. Also share from your own life, even things a little personal; it peels away some layers.

Listen for sure. But probe and bait for surer.