Monthly Archives: June 2019

Popup Businesses.


The web and 3D printers have taken a toll on marketing and branding. The web, because you can put stuff up on the internet and pretend you have a product or service when you don’t. Pick a name, buy a URL, add a few stock pictures and you are off. Use social media to promote it (for free) and start your skin-deep business. This is desktop publishing not product marketing.  As for 3D printers, you can create stuff to hold in your hand, prototype and walk around to buyers as if it’s something you might find in Best Buy. With no thought toward production, supply chain, consumer law, or patents.

It’s a popup business world.

What’s even worse is these pop-up entrepreneurs tend to do all the marketing ground work in-house. They build websites with WordPress, ads with online templates, name things as they might their children, and fund startups with credit cards. Fail. Fail. Fail. Albeit Fun, fun, fun – until the credit card comes due.

Startups and entrepreneurs that do things the right way (and there are thousands of them), start with a plan. A strategy. A product requirements document (PRD).  They are more business-focused  than play-time focused. They make lots of paper before starting up the 3D printer or HTML.  

As Keith Hernandez would say, they start with the fundies.




My LinkedIn Profile…Open For Business.


I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to certain things. I don’t prevaricate. I don’t even lie. I won’t eat popcorn at the movie theater until the movie starts and I don’t like to add people to my LinkedIn connections I don’t know.  In fact, if someone asks to connect I don’t know them I’ll spend all sorts of time tracking down their email so I can send this little note off:

Morning.  Thanks for the LinkedIn request. 

I try to stay true to the LinkedIn mission by only adding people I know.  If we haven’t met, may we quickly remedy that with a phone call or Skype?

Hope that’s all right with you. I’m flattered that you’d like to link up.  …Steve Poppe

I’m rethinking this stickle.  Life’s too short. As of today, I’ll be adding all comers, save for the few beauties with bountiful breasts, who are likely Russians.)

IRL I wouldn’t parry the request of someone who wanted to talk. And frankly, though I think Reid Hoffman is really smart, I won’t let his rules for LinkedIn guide my ability to share my business crap. (Did I just call my life’s work crap? Hee hee.) I am, after all, in the business of learning from others and making connections.

So there you have it, my LinkedIn is open to all for business. This morning alone I accepted one new and two back dated requests. Let the party begin.




Truist Brand. C Team Stuff.


First impressions in branding are important.  I once heard a young woman say she knew she was going to attend Wake Forest after seeing the front gate.  How’s that for branding?

In branding names are first impressions. Naming is hard but it’s so important. Just look at the name of the bank resulting from the merger of SunTrust and BB&T. Truist. What a cluster fork.  The name has been announced on the web. The video launching the name has launched. The video that sets the stage for the name change has launched. But the mark has not. Not as of this writing (6/25/19).  I was talking to a banker from TruePoint bank last week who told me the Truist name is in litigation by another bank with True in the name. Oops.  Trademarkia anyone? Maybe that’s why the new logo hasn’t been seen.

The Truist name has something to do with heritage name SunTrust. BB&T seems to have been jettisoned altogether. They would have been much better starting from scratch. Names are as much about the future as the past and if you’ve been paying attention to the news lately you’ll know the banking industry is moving. Moving more quickly today than in the last 100 years.

Can you say blockchain? Can you say mobile banking? Can you say deposit slip?  Hee hee.

Truist is C team thinking. A miasma of team-think. The lawsuit may be the best thing that has happened to his effort.



Brand Strategy Is Organized Proof.


Brand strategists are organizers. Not like political or civic organizers. We are value and strategy organizers. Most brand strategists think binary worldviews are bad.  They like grays. Me? I like a plan that organizes deposits in brand value. A plan where you are either on strategy or off. I’ve heard it said “If you are not making a deposit in the brand bank you are making a withdrawal,” which may be too harsh, but if spending money or effort not supporting the plan, even if for a brand neutral-value, you are missing an opportunity.  So I’m a binary organizer.

What else am I? I’m a proof-ist. Or proofist. As someone who grew up in the advertising business, buried in product and service claims that all sounded alike, I’ve landed on proof as my strategy differentiator. Proof is what gives people reason to believe. Reason to remember. Reason to be trusted.  Proof is performance. Taste. Experience. All existential. Claim is a promise. And idea tethered to proof. Advertisers have spent billions on promises, sans proof, so much so that consumers choose not to believe them. Claims flow and flow and never stop.

Hence, the need for brand planning — brand planning based on organized proof.

If you’d like to see some claim and proof arrays for real brands, names redacted, feel free email me…



Health System Branding.


I worked on the North Shore-LIJ Health System brand strategy about 20 years ago.  Today North Shore is called Northwell Health.  If I did my job correctly, the brand strategy should still be valid.  From everything I’ve seen, it is.  In fact, three ads agencies later, even with a professional yet rudderless ad campaign in place and a goofy tagline (Look North), I still see evidence of the original “system-centric” brand strategy. Some popping up anew after many years.   

As someone who follows health system brand strategy, I recently came across one (it will remain nameless) for a which brand campaign was launched last fall. On the agency of record website this is what was said about the goals:

 “Integrated creative campaign that would increase system brand awareness and build a positive perception of the organization among the ____ community.”

I kid you not.  Awareness and positive perception.

The resultant advertising is beautiful.  Shot in black and white. Great casting. Lovely videography, maybe even cinematography to keep the quality and price up.  But idea?  Ugatz! Strategy? Ugatz!

What gives advertising a bad name is freeform creativity without an endemic category goal.  The best creative directors want to accomplish something. They want to tell a story. They push for brand strategy.

Healthcare system branding still has a long way to go.




Twitch Point Planning Explained


Go Forth and Twitch is the title of a post on something I call Twitch Point Planning. It’s been getting some search traction online. Twitch Point Planning is a communications planning tool ,the goal of which is to move prospects closer to a sale. I define a twitch as a media action when a prospect moves from one medium to another in search of more product information or sales information. For example, if you were reading a novel about a whitewater rafting trip and wanted to search similar vacations, you might pick up your phone and search “whitewater rafting trips.” That’s a twitch. A move from book to phone. That’s how people shop. Across media.

Most twitches resolve to a Google search. But not all.

In Twitch Point Planning you have to “understand, map and manipulate” customers to your sales content or point-of-sale.  Rather than looking at customer journey, we manipulate the media and learning journey. Twitch Point Planning is more behavior-based and predictive than is a normal media buy.

Using he aforementioned whitewater rafting trip, the twitch point planner might attempt to remove obstacles to a sale along the way, e.g., kids too young, skin cancer, water snakes, by placing content along the way – more twitches — intended to remove obstacle. Perhaps under the guise of a “field guide to whitewater rafting for first timers.” Of “first timers discussion board.” YouTube, Wikipedia, Pinterest, the local library — all can be integrated into your Twitch Point Plan.

Selling is about learning. Let’s evolve our learning tools.





United Technologies and Dick Kerr.


As a kid growing up in advertising I was lucky enough to work on a piece of the United Technologies account. Comprised of Sikorsky helicopters, Otis Elevator, Carrier air conditioners, and Pratt and Whitney, this juggernaut was a fairly unknown master brand. And a master brand saddled with a pretty poor name.

To elevate the United Technologies brand they turned to a copywriter named Dick Kerr. They could have gone to Ogilvy or JWT but somehow Dick got his foot in the door and became the creative agency of record.

Dick wrote all-type ads. Wonderful ads. Ads not about helicopters and elevators, but about people. Places. Things. And behavior. At the time these ads ran – as full-pages on back covers of The Wall Street Journal — this type of corporate advertising was unheard of.  At the bottom of each ad, composed of a single top-to-bottom column of type, sat the United Technologies wheel logo. Captains of industry began to read these babies and understand that  holding companies could be much more than the sum of their parts and balance sheets.

At one point, readership studies showed that 7 of the top 10 “best read” ads ever to run in The Wall Street Journal, were penned by Dick. By United Technologies. UTC make a book out of the ads called Gray Matter named after Harry Gray, then CEO.

Dick is gone now but in its waning days United Technologies is still benefiting from his writing, his wit and his strategy.

Below is copy from the first ad in they series, as I remember.

Keep it simple.

Strike three.

Get your hand off my knee.

You’re overdrawn.

Your horse won.



You have the account.


Don’t walk.

Mother’s dead.

Basic events require simple language.

Idiosyncratically euphuistic eccentricities are the promulgators of triturable obfuscation.

What did you do last night?

Enter into a meaningful romantic involvement
or fall in love?

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

The upper part of a hog’s hind leg with two oval bodies encased in a shell laid by a female bird
or ham and eggs? 

David Belasco, the great American theatrical producer once said, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea.”




How Much Brand Discovery is Enough?


That’s a fine questions Steve. I’ve done some freelance work where the shop wanted 30-40 interviews. On the B2B side, inclusive of technology, that may be too many.  You can never learn too much, you can never talk brand too much, but 30 plus takes time and reduces focus.  That said, in my last engagement I probably conducted 25 interviews. It was for a complicated tech assignment, however, requiring that I learn blockchain, cryptocurrency and such.

Ideally, and things are never ideal in the interview business, one would get all the conversations out of the way in a week. That said, don’t over-schedule and burn yourself out. You need time for the information and insights to marinate and react. I like to use a pat set of questions so I can look at the variation of answers or the deltas as they say in the research business.  

If you don’t do enough interviews, you can fall into the traps of projecting insights from elsewhere — and that’s a bad.  If paid to only do a few interviews you might rationalize things by short-cutting — relying on your planning experience. Don’t do it. Your brain will fart. You’ll spend more time looking for patterns that aren’t there and it will take more time, not less.

Go long, but be careful not to go too long.


PS. For a presentation of brand strategy framework with real examples (sans attribution), write  




The problem with most marketing communications is lack of originality.  I was speaking to business owner yesterday who said he went to a seminar on branding where the speaker told the crowd everyone had to decide which of the two types of business they wanted to be: quality or service. (I hope he didn’t have to pay.)  Can you imagine, thinking there are only two types of brand or company? These are price-of-entry values. Not positioning values. And franking if you are not offering quality and service you won’t be in business very long.

Branding is about originality. Finding new ways to convey value. Using new, ownable, believable words. New demonstrations. And I’m not talking a smiling face next to a stack of tasty pancakes. I’m talking a line out the door of the pancake house.

Some say “nothing is original” in advertising and marketing.  And I say everything has a chance to be. Find your brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks) and invent originality every day. And then do it some more.



An Organizing Principle.


I came across a cool London ad firm yesterday by the name of Mr. President (Love the name.) In the About section of the website was a somewhat sprawling description of its brand craft, outlining 6 components:

  • Position: A strategic positioning for a brand which defines the business opportunity and informs the brand purpose.
  • Ethos: A unique brand story that defines its purpose and inspires its personality and behaviour.
  • Identity: A set of guidelines that demonstrate and define how the brand looks, talks and moves.
  • Comms: A campaign or moment that boldly defines the brand purpose.
  • Connectors: An extensive plan that defines how the brand should interact with the audience.
  • Measurement: A rigorous framework that defines and quantifies performance and unearths actionable insight.

It’s comprehensive but also prescriptive. I’m sure it will work within the walls of Mr. President but not likely outside of the agency. And that’s what brand strategy is all about.  A framework that can be shared over time and place.

I looked over the six, well thought-out elements and realized they are covered in What’s The Idea’s? Claim and Proof framework — with the possible exception of “identity.”  If we view purpose as claim then properly done all the behaviors mentioned can become proofs. So we are mostly in alignment, but in a cleaner more measurable way.

A mentor of mine at McCann-Erickson once parried an AT&T client comment with “Campaigns are overrated.”  I riff on that with “Campaigns come and go a powerful brand idea is indelible.”

Brand strategy is an organizing principle. Anchored to claim.