Brand Strategy

    Gillette, Schick and Branding.


    I interviewed for a dream job as a brand planner at BBDO on Gillette a couple of years ago.  Had a great non-lunch, the interviewer told me my views were unique and had ballast (my word, it was 2 years ago.)  The next step was to send some planning samples and creative to the boss, which I did.  It was, sadly, a poor digital package.  Not BBDO-like.

    Today, I’m reading about a reality web series being sponsored by Schick razors in Andrew Adam Newman’s NYT ad column and all parties are saying the wrong things, so the effort will no doubt be lackluster.  Clean break is the idea. We know they are talking clean break from Gillette, but they suggest the strategy is otherwise.  It got me thing about Gillette’s strategy. And all I can come up with is the word “man.”  And an assortment of new products.  I shave with a Gillette 5 days a week, and I am a man.  Beyond forward thinking expensive product, I haven’t a clue what their idea is.

    Since I did not get the job, I’d love a chance to talk to the person who did to discuss and plumb the idea.  Could it be just to let Schick waddle forward?  I doubt it.  Branding is about claim and proof. Organized.  Man, product innovation and I’ll throw in some smooth are okay planks, but without an idea to bind them, they lose muscle memory. Peace.

    Brands as culture.


    As the economy moves away from manufacturing toward service, which it has been doing for 25 years now, the number of people who are actually making things decreases. Desks across America are filled with people whose jobs it is to make decisions and manage others. Sure, iPhones are being manufactured, and cars are being constructed. Sure, food is being processed, packaged, sold and served.  But the number of companies doing it has decreased and the scale of those companies hugely expanded. It won’t be long before Wal-Mart has a house brand that takes over the world.

    All these people at desks, tasked with making decisions along the chain of command and trying to add value, can create a leadership nightmare.  Add to that the web offering up the ability for people to collapse the 4Ps into a single P (platform) and one can see why brands are becoming more and more important.  Branding is an organizing principle for marketing.

    The best brands are culture. The best brands lead companies. Strong brands show the way.  And align the desks.  If you have a strong brand get to know it.  Peace!   


    Sneaker brands lack diff.


    Do you have a favorite sneaker brand?  What is it and why. 

    I love Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, though I have to look to see how you spell Taylor. Black, high tops.  I like the style, the weight, the cost and for me they are a roots product.  As for my basketball sneakers, frankly Scarlett I don’t give a damn.  Probably more often than not I buy Nike, but that is more a function of what’s at the store.  I want to pay $50-100, I want them to last and not smell after a few months (good luck with that) but my allegiances are not strong.

    I watch a lot of sports.  You’d think the advertising would have made an impression on me.  I recognize the Michal Jordan logo and like Michael Jordan. That said, I  have no interest in buying his shoes over any other.  That’s like 50 billion dollars of advertising later.  Why am I not a Nike or Jordan fan?  You tell me.  I suppose it is because they have not built anything meaningful in to the design, and patented it, that I care to invest in.  They have a great creative shop in Wieden+Kennedy. The ad craft is wonderful (I still love Mars Blackman) however there is nothing as a consumer I can tell you from a product standpoint that differentiates the sneaker beside the logo. (Not like nfinity with its “designed for women” cheerleading sneaker, for instance.)

    Do you have a favorite sneaker?  If so, please tell me why. Peace!

    Ideas Vs. Tactics


    Ideas are hard to trust. Tangible things like design, ads, copy, promotion, and user experience are easier to trust.  You can see them, ask your friends about them, test them.  “I love that logo. That ad brought in 100 new customers.  My email campaign had a 1.25% click through rate.”

    But ideas? You can’t scientifically parse and evaluate an idea.  Brand strategies are ideas. Volvo makes you safer.  Coca Cola refeshes. Cottonelle is softer.  These brand strategies, like all good ones, are indelible.  I’ve written a great deal about ROS or return on strategy.  So far, ROS is just an idea.  Though one can calculate ROI ( return on investment/tactic), return on strategy is much harder to calculate.  Why? Because ROS tries to understand the value of an idea. When I sell “rebooting the phone business” to a VOIP client along with 3 organizing principles to support the claim, I’m selling an idea. This idea might be measured in year over year sales, but on paper, how it is dimensionalized and quantified is not easy. (I still have work to do.)

    Because ideas are easy to understand but harder to trust, branding has lost ground in today’s marketing world.  I joke that digital has created tactics-palooza and it’s true.  The best brands are idea-driven. Tight ideas and tight supports. Ideas create new products. Ideas motivate armies. Ideas make you happy or sad.

    Ideas are hard to sell but the top tier CMOs get them. And live them.  What’s your brand’s idea? Peace.

    Relentless and Boring.


    There’s an old marketing adage — okay, I just made it up – “The more times you say something the more consumers believe it.”  Hell, the more marketers themselves believes it.  Advertising agents take this notion and create campaigns around it.  Some campaigns last a long time (I can still sing the Good and Plenty song from my childhood), but most don’t.  Rote repetition in advertising is bad – it burns out.  That’s why, to coin a phrase, campaigns come and go.

    There is a change management theory, espoused by the godfather of GE Jack Welch, suggesting change is best affected by making communications “relentless and boring.”  You can’t argue with Mr. Welch’s success so let’s say that one’s sacrosanct. It seems that many marketers and their agents also fall into this trap.  I understand relentless but when selling it has a negative connotation. Geico is relentless. There is clearly such a thing as too much selling. Advertisers need to be relentlessly on message, about that I would agree, but not baseball bat relentless with the pound, pound, pound of same ad frequency.  It’s boring. And off-putting. 

    As for boring, there is never a place for it in marketing and certainly not in advertising.  Relentless creates boring…and boring creates boring. Two strikes.  

    So here’s a guiding principle for marketers and agents. Find a brand strategy (a claim and supports), live it, message it, listen to it with your own ears, and enliven it — daily. Touch consumers with meted frequency, especially when they’re most willing, refresh those touches continuously, and do so without being boring. Easily typed, harder deployed.  That’s why they call it work. Peace!  

    Officious and Dysfunctional Strategies.


    Officious is a wonderful word and one too infrequently used in strategic planning.  An adjective, it is defined as: objectionably aggressive in offering one’s unrequested and unwanted services, help, or advice; meddlesome: an officious person.  Strategies that lead to this type of brand claim are a blight.  Conversely, strategies so soft and huggable consumers cozy up to a tangent in order to get the brand claim, are also a blight. Some might call that borrowed interest.

    What does Coke do better than any other soft drink?  Refresh. People want to be refreshed, so offering up examples of how and when Coke refreshes in not officious. Telling them Coke is more refreshing (world’s most, more people refresh, more refreshing than…) is.  As Coke and Wieden and Kennedy would have you believe today, Coke makes you Happy. That’s borrowed or tangential. It makes for nice advertising and playful Coke machines, but is an indirect sell. When Coke gets back to its core refreshment value and shows us how it refreshes, proves how it refreshes, the advertising will sell more.

    The line between officiousness and borrowed, tangential value in not a fine line, ii’s a chasm.  So what do so many brand strategies jump to one or the other? It’s dysfunction, is what it is. Peace!


    Brand Promises and Stereotypes.


    Stereotypes are important in marketing because they are patterns.  Many feel that if you play to the patterns, you will win.  Creative directors, on the other hand, have made a living going the other way — staying away from patterns, which is a pattern in itself.

    Stereotyping Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, might suggest she was more likely to assist in the EU bailout because she’s a woman – a mom.  Stereotyping a Long Island Rail Road worker who took retirement with disability at age 50, might portray him as a golf-playing aerobicist, while the reality is he is an arthritic thanks to 30 years keeping the trains moving during winter snowstorms.

    Is someone in Aspen, CO who opens a retailer door and shouts in “Which way to Little Nells?” a New Yorker?   Okay, that one might be accurate – but the reality is stereotypes are nothing more than learning for a brand planner. And as planners if we know “no one wants to be a stereotype.”  It doesn’t mean the consumer wants to be the pioneer who takes the arrows  or the Beta User whose machine gets crapped – it just means when being sold, we want to feel individualized.  The promise has to have promise…not an explicit benefit.  Let consumers’ minds work and process things in their own way. Europeans are better at this type of selling than Americans.  In the U.S. we are very explicit with our ads and social media.

    Sometimes being broad with a promise works harder.  Peace.  

    Advertising and the commodity slurry.


    Advertising agencies have allowed themselves to become commoditized.  In product marketing there are luxury goods, mid-priced challengers and bargain goods, but in the agency business everyone is more or less priced the same. 

    Sure, if you hire BBDO or Ogilvy your top line creative people will be more expensive than someone from the no-name middle tier but you get what you pay for and after a year or so the profitability equation seeps in and both type of shops meet in the middle. The commoditized middle.

    This is because ad agencies sell labor and stuff (pictures, video, writing, music and coding).  The valuable part – strategy – more often than not is given away.  Strategy and creative win new business but brand strategy often disappears after the contract is signed leaving creative to carry the day.  At that point middle-managers-on-the-rise start to take control.  And tactics take over. That’s when air starts seeping out of the balloon.  Tactics are commodities in the ad business. Apple wouldn’t put up with this. 

    What’s the way out?

    Ad agencies need to strengthen their commitment to strategy over tactics. They need to build incentives into their contracts tied to the strategic product.  If a client approves work that is off strategy, the client should have to fund a kicker to the fee. A – because it will cause more work.  And B – because the work will be off-piste.  Campaigns come and go…and that’s okay.  But brand strategy should not. Agencies known for their strategic work will emerge from the commodity slurry. Peace!   

    Can save lives but not an idea.


    UnitedHealthcare (one word) is an insurance company with 78 thousand employees serving 70 million Americans. Those are some big numbers. And big numbers are what drive the company’s current advertising campaign. “Health in numbers” is the idea. With lots of data in hand and lots of analysts managing its output, the promise to consumers is an improved healthcare experience. That’s the micro promise; the macro promise is “we’re huge and can offer better insurance pricing.”

    I’m pretty sure Ogilvy is the ad agency for UnitedHealtcare and, sadly, the ads are forgettable. Today there’s one in The New York Times showing a 60-something man riding a motorcycle with a flurry of animated numbers flying in his wake. That’s the visual idea. I know this advertising is targeting number crunchers in corporate America more than patients, but this is high school stuff. The copy in the ad is focused on “knowledge in numbers” and how data records can prevent contra-indicated medicines from being administered to patients, so as a brand student I can see there’s a plan here. The other brand planks are: strength in numbers, humanity in numbers and comfort in numbers. (Okay, I didn’t say a good plan.)

    Here’s my diagnosis: Good strategy, not so good creative, poor client brand management. I’m betting the work was the product of a team of clients that couldn’t agree and therefore went with a hodgepodge, duct taped effort. The revenue was there for Ogilvy, the B team delivered a product, and the agency will live to see another campaign year. Maybe.

    Ogilvy is better than this. And a company that can analyze data in a way that can save lives, is better than this. Peace!