Monthly Archives: August 2018

Endemic Branding.


Campbell’s Soup is one of America’s most famous and well-understood brands. It’s also known as one of the most economical meals in the country.  I’ve written a good deal about the Campbell’s Soup Company, especially so when they were moving into more healthy soups about 10 years ago.  Speaking of healthy, Campbell’s bought juice company Bolthouse Farms in 2012, which was a nice idea but not an endemic category. It didn’t work.  It was reported today, times are tough Campbell’s and losses are mounting. It is selling Bolthouse and considering selling the company.

Focus is what makes great brands. And Campbell’s is a soup company. A company that puts tasty, nutritious meals in cans. At low price points.  To get out of this hole the research and development people need to double down their efforts to recreate new soups.  New packages. New dayparts. New ingredients.

Pho. Stock. Bisque. Bouillon. Chowder. There are probably a hundred more types of soupy meals being served around the world today Campbell’s could consider. And another hundred they could invent. Bring David Chang in for a week. Or Katie Button.

Don’t think like Camden, NJ. Think like Asheville, NC. Mine your consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats. Peace.


Twitch And You Will Find.


Twitch Point Planning is a very heady (if I say so myself) communications planning tool that is really a sales planning tool.  The goal of twitch point planning is to move consumers closer to a sale. And isn’t that what all sales activity is about?

Twitch Point Planning uses multiple media platforms, mostly digital, to direct consumers toward a product and preference for that product. Some are willing, e.g., they are actively seeking information, and others less willing – they a not necessarily shopping but may be vulnerable to an endemic or coincidental message.  

A twitch is a media moment when a consumer leaves what they are doing and references a different source for clarification.  For instance, I was reading Kara Swisher in The NY Times paper paper today and she gratuitously used the word “codswallop.” I twitched from paper to digital and Googled the word – a behavior she predicted. Marketers who understand, map and manipulate twitches are marketers who are playing smart chess with consumers.  

Customer Journey and DILO frameworks are smart frameworks, but Twitch Point Planning transcend media planning.  Kara Swisher gets it, and Google gets it. Google just doesn’t quite know what to do with it yet.





Yuengling Brand Craft.


I was driving earlier this week and noticed a couple of Yuengling billboard ads.  Billboards are hard to do as the good ones contain 7 words or less.  It seems the Yuengling tagline is “spread your wings,” which until further notice with be their brand strategy claim. (A brand strategy is one claim, three proof planks.)  Yuengling is America’s oldest brewery, but that proof shouldn’t get in the way of a fallow claim like spread your wings. Everyone wants to spread their wings, no?

The “wings” are derived from the eagle on the label — not to be confused with the Anheuser Busch eagle logo. The rational-emotional claim for the beer, has nothing to do with the beer. Just the purchaser.  It’s the same claim used by brands in nearly every category from mobile phones to cars to airlines. (At least airlines have wings.)

Basically, Yuengling has no brand strategy…they have a logo.  That’s how you get headlines line “go big or go bigger.”  This is lazy and poor brand craft. 

Brand strategy is the thoughtful result of consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats.  Where ever the twain shall not meet, we get wings.



“It’s all about focus.” Really?


I offer a fun brand exploratory to client prospects of a certain size called “Brand Strategy Tarot Cards,” in which I turn over 5 pieces of company/product content and do a reading. One such piece is the boilerplate – the copy on the About section of the website.

Here is a sample from a successful insurance software company, with the name changed to protect the innocent:

At Insurance Plus, we specialize in Property & Casualty software and services. It’s our focus and our passion. We’ve been doing it for over 25 years and we do it really well.

Over the years, we have used our deep insurance industry experience and sophisticated technology expertise to envision, develop, and deliver the most comprehensive core systems and data solutions devoted exclusively to commercial, personal and specialty lines of business.

We continually bring new thinking and new functionality to the market. We’ve forged deep relationships with our customers and keep them ahead of the technology curve with innovative solutions and a content library that has no equal. Over the past years, we’ve acquired companies to add to the list of solutions to better serve the market and our customers.

The lede of this About section boilerplate can be found in quote marks in the post headline. (The Really is mine.)

Beyond the fact that they are in the property and casualty software business, the only real information here is they are 25 years old and have bought other companies.  That’s it. The rest is marko-babble.

Branding is about pouring value into a product or service vessel. And doing so in a way that consumers can play back.

Many companies are starved for brand strategy. It’s tragic.


Seeing Feeds Believing.


Yesterday I wrote about the “ear,” as an important part of the brand planners toolkit. Today I write of the eye. Imagine yourself undertaking consumer discovery without your sense of hearing. What would you do? Smelling isn’t going to help too much, but sight may.  

In-store observations are sight-based. Is the shopper making an impulse buy or recurrent buy? Is s/he paying attention or just picking and packing? Does price appear to be a concern? Does your consumer appear happy and optimistic or approach shopping as a trip to the dentist?

Observe how your consumer is dressed and overlay that info on their behavior. See what type of car they drive.  Look at all the cars in the parking lot.  Look at the outside stickers on the cars. Commuters, pool members, what colleges?  Look at the repair of the cars.

Based on the daypart, what is the demographic makeup of the consumers you are seeing? Are there clusters?  How are the people interacting with one another? Communally or independently? Once you start observing with your eyes, you can’t stop, And it get better and better.

All of this info can be gathered with the eyes alone. The eyes do have it.



Brand Planner Tool Kit.


Interviewing people for brand strategy development is the bread and butter of the softer side of the job. I say the softer side because brand strategy, after you get through the money making stuff, is all about people, ideas, motivations and desires (or lack thereof).    

I was reading a thing in the NYT this morning on the topic of “asking for help” and realized how it intersects with my interviewing technique. When interviewing someone, at the beginning they are often of the belief that it will be like a journalist’s interview. That mindset is one I quickly debunk. From the outset, I let interviewees know they are the expert and I the pupil.  I try not to be obsequious (a talent), all the while sharing my genuine interest in them, their life, and the topic. My technique is not all inbound information, I share too. When you share and do so in humorous and sometimes vulnerable ways, people tend to open up.

The consumer interview is the key to the brand strategy business.  If you have only one tool in your brand planer kit, it better be a good ear. But you need to prime the pump by sharing to have something good to hear.



Startup Success and Failure.


I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of start-ups.  Some have done well, some not so well, and a few have been just brilliant, but before their time. In the latter case, there was pend-up market demand but the timing wasn’t right. Which is a euphemism for we f’ed up. 

In the seminal tech book “Crossing The Chasm,” author Geoffrey Moore suggests advancing from early adoptership to early majority is nirvana for start-ups. Most marketing planners (and everyone is a planner in the startup world) will say timing is key for this jump to happen. But honestly, two things are critical for startup success: pent-up demand, e.g., app-driven ride sharing, and near perfect business execution. If the product is hinky, all the demand in the world won’t help.  In fact, it can kill your product fast. Think being massively hungry and digging into a rotten tomato.  

On the business side, awareness is important. It helps if you have an ad budget — about $5 million to make a national consumer impression. Or you can go the viral way and target key “Posters,” those who Codeword (agency) would call influencers. First user experience needs to be right. Naming needs to be right. Internal vision has to be fixed so external comms are in synch. You need to develop your own language.  This ain’t no disco.

So startup entrepreneurs, don’t blame timing if your business doesn’t take — blame execution and lack of pent-up demand.



Trendsetters and Trend Stoppers.


Ten percent more US citizens died of drug overdoses last year than did the year before.  Drug manufacturers in the opioid and Fentanyl businesses are making money. I’m planning on swimming in the Maggie Fischer Cross Bay Swim next summer.  It’s 5.25 miles and starts at slack tide — just before incoming tide. Were a leaf sitting on the water that time, the Great South Bay would do a bit of the heavy lifting, perhaps cutting off a half mile or so or effort. (I hope.)

Trends and momentum are good things; especially in the science of marketing.  It’s hard to start a trend, ask most no-name or startup products. People aren’t Googling for trends that haven’t yet happened.  That’s why advertising is still important; it can help to create trends.

Reversing trends is even harder.  Young mothers in America are buying diapers in record numbers. Getting them to potty train earlier, for instance, is swimming against the tide.  

All marketers need to know where they are on the trend-ometer and plan accordingly.

Brand planners need to be trendsetters and trend stoppers.




Close to the Maddening Crowd.


Marketing is about crowd building. Have you ever walked in a city, seen a long line of people and wondered what they are waiting for? Or seen 20 people on the street staring into a store window at a TV?  Crowds have a gravitational pull. When searching YouTube for an unfamiliar music artist, do you watch the video with 256,000 views or 2,600 views? Which food truck line to you get on, the long one or the short one?

The key marketing and branding question is “How do you build a crowd?” How do you surround yourself with appeal and activity that feeds interest – that beckons?

Start with focus. Don’t try to be too much.  When you do something, do it well. And do it differently. Be the exception not a rule.  Be clear in your value. Be easy to understand. Be easy to share. And always compel.  Most people like crowds. We are gregarious by nature.

Make sure your marketing and branding move customers closer to a crowd.




How to Stem Social Media Decline.


The New York Times reported today that the top social media platforms are either flat or declining in users.  For the first time in its young life Snap is down daily active users — 3 million this quarter compared to same qtr. last year.

This news causes bosses to call marketing brainstorm sessions about adding users.  Often these meeting feel tactical and not strategic. Were I in one of these brainstorming meetings, I’d suggest the platform encourage current users to add additional accounts.  

I’ve long supported the notion that each social platform has a different reason for being, with discrete lines between them. Facebook is for friends and friendship. LinkedIn for work. Instagram for the pictorial, artistic self. And Twitter for the individual, real-time persona. Your personality writ large. If social platforms get users to dig a little deeper into themselves, and expressions of themselves, they might find individuals will open additional accounts, e.g. Steve Poppe archeologist, Steve Poppe punk rock musings. The bosses might say, “Those aren’t new user.” And the bosses would be right.  But these multiple accounts would be adding incremental interest to the platform and fuel greater overall interest and, more importantly, time on site. And isn’t that a strategy requirement?