Brand Glossary


    I started my first big boy job at a top advertising agency in NYC, McCann-Erickson. Working on AT&T. While most of the team was handling TV work and producing print ads for The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Time Magazine, I was hired to do the technical products: data lines, network management and software defined networks. I was the B2B guy, which suited me. It’s from whence I came. But AT&T and McCann were the real deal and I was scrambling.

    At my first meeting in Bridgewater, NJ, I became inundated with acronyms and telecom terms I’d never heard before.  It was like moving to the Ukraine.  My head spun.  I had to quickly invent a game plan in the pre-internet era.  Laptops were few and far between. First step was to create an acronym glossary. One based upon AT&T jargon. When complete the glossary was probably 20 pages long filled with paragraphs of arcane descriptions. I brought that baby with me everywhere. As my team grew, it became a shared resource.

    When the Bell Labs and AT&T marketing people saw me with my glossary they giggled but appreciated that I cared. I asked lots of questions; they never held back.

    I write a lot about learning the language of the target. In account or project management, learning the language of the client is the first step. Only then can you translate that into the consumer dialect.



    Rage Against The Alphabet.


    Google has built its enormous search business by creating “ads that are helpful.” The advertising industry, on the other hand, creates ads meant to sell. One business is shrinking, the other growing. Many consumers would agree they prefer to be helped rather than sold.

    If you add machine learning to Google’s laser focus on marketing as evidenced at yesterday’s Google Marketing Live Conference, you might place career bets on Google rather than Droga 5 or RGA. But wait!

    At the nexus of “helping” and “selling” is brand planning. Advertising agents more often than not sell. Clients make them. But advertising agencies, both digital and traditional, guided by proper brand strategy can’t avoid being helpful — because a brand strategy is built upon customer care-abouts. (Balanced by brand good-ats.) With a brand strategy as your guide, the advertising work can’t help but be helpful. It’s hard to be self-serving when being helpful.

    So let’s all learn from Google and capture the essence of helpfulness, then wrap it in powerful product and consumer insights and beat the machine. Zack de la Rocha had it right.




    Free Briefs


    I’ve run a few promotions over the years and the most popular has been the “Free Day of Planning.” 

    Promotions are typically used on new products to promote trial.  I have been in Asheville, NC for a year and a half and have yet to pick up any paying clients, so it’s time to break out the big promotional guns.

    Last night while attending the Asheville Design Salon it came to me that in this market (and most markets) most people don’t wake up saying “Damn, I need a brand strategy.” They need customers, a website, and certainly logos and design work – but an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging, not so much.

    Existentially, what is a brand strategy?  It’s a brief – a piece of paper with a positioning idea, based on customer care-abouts and brand good-ats.  So today I am offering all businesses in Ashville and the surrounding towns a free brief. (I’d insert nomenclature here about limited time offer and first-come-first served, but don’t think it necessary.)

    Caveat: I will not be able to go crazy deep on your brand, but way more than deep enough to open eyes. Deep enough to help prioritize values. And focus. And to an extent, to wrap it all up in a little poetry.

    So have at it Asheville. Write and order up your free brief.  


    Health Care Branding Writ Large.


    Here’s a little naming and branding exercise.  There are three names for pretty much the same topical healthcare idea — all concerning extending healthcare for all Americans. 

    The Affordable Care Act
    Medicare for All

    Leave a comment as to which is the best sobriquet or brand.

    The Affordable Care Act, was clearly a corporate-type construct.  It is an “act” which means it’s government-approved. It’s “affordable,” in name, so it’s consumer-approved, albeit marketed. And contextually it’s about care.  

    Then there’s Obamacare.  It’s fun, but reverential and politicized.  On one side to the aisle today, it’s demonized…a magnet for associations shared by nattering nabobs of negativity. Lovers of the law mostly like the name. Certainly they like their namesake president.

    Lastly, we have Medicare for all. Nice. Who doesn’t like Medicare?  It’s sing-songy (All for one, one for all). It’s inclusive. And most importantly it’s easy to understand. People know what Medicare is and they know who “all” are.

    People who actually understand what the Affordable Care Act is – an incentivized illness prevention program – see it’s upside and pitfalls, with an emphasis on the former.  But consumers primarily see a name. 

    The power of the Medicare for All brand is so great that the opposition had to come up with a counter name.  And they have done a pretty good job, “Socialized Medicine.” 

    Brand builders are getting smarter in healthcare.  It’s a thing.










    Slow Your Brand Strategy Roll.


    I was talking to neighbor and friend Dan the other day and he shared a little story about his time as a tyro actor. A strapping man, Dan was often asked to do the fight and murder scenes in Shakespeare plays.  The key to doing fights on stage, he offered, was to slow things down by a third. That is, fight but fight at 66% of the normal speed and amplitude.  It’s a hard skill to learn.  In one instance, a pre-teen actor was asked to hamstring Dan’s character and no amount of practice could get this dervish to hit 66%. Hence no one in the audience could tell what happened.

    Brand planners and brand strategists, must treat brand building similarly. Slow it down. Make big, grand gestures. Be obvious. That’s how we make strategy clear. That’s how we prove our strategy. Quick feet, fast pivots, hyperactive tactics may be seen but are realty understood.

    Brand building takes time.  Patience.  Our goal is to engineer preference and you don’t do that in fast twitch mode.

    I’m a huge fan of social and fast twitch media.  (Google “Twitch Point Planning.”)  But it has a way of being overly frenetic and reactive. It’s shiny. If improperly deployed (an off strategy) it can make withdrawals from the brand bank, not deposits.




    Incrementalism or Absolutism?


    There’s a lot of absolutism going on in politics today. Absolutism is very binary: on or off. Marketing has grown to be more absolute: sale or no sale.  But branding is best looked at as an incremental practice. That doesn’t mean you can’t sell a product to a person upon first impression, not at all.  But the process of building or engineering preference takes time. And if you are able manage all the steps to a sale “awareness, interest, desire and purchase” in a single web or retail session, you need to keep the foot on the pedal to strengthen that relationship.  Because someone who can go from unaware-to-brand love in minutes, is apt to do so again – at your expense.

    So look at branding as a long term effort. Measure sales along side positive attitude changes, once or twice a year, and do it for a minimum of 10 years. It takes a while to seed and germinate your claim and proof array. 

    That said, patience is not a virtue many marketers possess. That’s the reality. Yet it is a virtue brand manager must. Engineer your preference and it will last and last.



    Brand Minimalism.


    I’m a cook who believes in technique.  The more I cook, the more I understand that it’s not recipes that make the best food, it’s good ingredients well presented. If I look at a recipe and see 12 plus ingredients, I click on.  It’s a rarity when so many ingredients come together into something that has a distinctive taste.  Kind of like mixing too many paints as a kid.

    In brand strategy, technique varies from planner to planner. Lot’s of behavioral observation. Quantitative numbers crunching. Segmentation.  Interviews with stakeholders and customers. Interviews with subject matter experts – knowing they’re not always your target. And sniffing around the ether, searching for poster not pasters.

    But the last technique — the most important technique — is the planning framework. Extending the cooking metaphor, it’s landing on which ingredients to use in your strategy dish. For me, the ingredients are few. One brand claim and three proof planks. The planks are kindred ingredients or proof supporting the claim.  

    You build brands with three proof planks. Not four, not five.  It can’t be four and a half. Too many planks ruin a brand. It’s the way the brain works. 

    For examples the claim and proof framework in your business category, please write me at Proof.






    Hudson Yards and Brand Strategy.


    I was reading an amazing piece in today’s New York Times, written by architecture critic Michael Kimmelman.  This is why I subscribe to the NYT. It’s an amazingly constructed criticism of the Hudson Yards project. Nary a mention of state and city tax subsidies, the piece just discusses the beauty (not much) and blight (more than enough) of the project designs. The writer is brutal but fair. No name calling, no Trumpian vilification, but make no mistake he skewers the architecture. Old NY style. This is brilliant reporting and analysis. Bravo New York Times.

    At one point Mr. Kimmelman refers to the project as an “architectural petting zoo.” His reference is to a loose federation of structure shapes and designs. (Does one put the zebras next to the sloths?) He makes a point about Rockefeller Center, the last out-sized project of this kind and how at least for that project there was a lead architectural firm — one firm to oversee the vision.

    This reminds me of brand management. Good brand craft oversees everything brand. Poor brand craft allows for many hands and agendas in the pot. Just as the Hudson Yards is a “doggy’s dinner” of styles and structures, a good brand needs harmony and continuity as it scales.

    Perhaps that’s why the terms brand architecture has stuck for so long.  But as we see from Mr. Kimmelman’s piece, there are architects and there are federations of architects.





    Brand Strategy Definition.


    Everybody in America can define the word “brand.” The Kardashians have made the definition more diffuse but still the word has amazing recognition.  Add the word “strategy” behind brand and it makes the task a little harder. Yet people know what the word strategy means so everyone should be able follow semantically.  Honestly though, the big honkin’ problem with the brand strategy business is very few people can actually articulate a process or framework for brand strategy. A means by which or protocol for enacting one, that is. 

    This is akin to people in the advertising business being good at creating ad and not good at selling product – the ultimate goal of advertising.

    There are a lot of smart people in brand planning, don’t get me wrong.  But most are paid by ad agencies to provide and insight or two to tickle the creative department.  And those who are employed by branding firms (e.g., Interbrand, Landor) are, in the main, armies of mid-managers paid to enhance presentations of names, logos, color palettes and experiential effluvia. Brand craft is more like the ad business (present stuff) than about the strategy.

    Starting at the beginning, a proper definition of brand strategy is “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  If your organizing principle is not organized, meaning it’s too broad or hard to articulate, it’s not an organizing principle.

    Tomorrow, a look at “product,” the first of the troika of brand strategy components.