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.





Every Brand is Exciting.


The first big brand for which I developed strategy was the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, affectionately known as NSLIJHS (just kidding).  It was indeed a doggy’s dinner of words. But if you knew North Shore University Hospital or Long Island Jewish Medical Center, you understood their deep roots in the community. The initial logo was a combination of the two marks – evidence that there was no one in power at the branding helm.  It took a few years to get the name to North Shore-LIJ Health System, which is how employees referred to it. And today it’s called Northwell Health. The latest name is kind of growing on me but was a mistake. Heritage is important.

When first introduced to the system I thought healthcare would be a poor marketing battlefield. I was quite wrong. The human psyche what it is, and man’s will to live being so powerful, it turned out to be a spectacular brand planning laboratory.

Bariatric surgery. Women’s health. Obstetrics. Cancer. And the gestalt of a healthcare brand sitting atop of everything – more chances to grow than the Fertile Crescent.

The fact is, all branding categories are fertile if you dig in. Why? Because people have feelings. Sure, toothpaste decision aren’t life and death but they can be important. It’s our jobs to make them important. Small and midsize companies don’t always see it that way. They should. People make this job interesting.




The Branding Supply Chain.


The branding supply chain is not a thing, but it should be. A supply chain is a chain of custody of manufactured elements that go into a finished product. In electronics, it’s not abnormal for a component to ship across the ocean three or four times before finding its way into Best Buy.  The comms chip is made in the U.S., sent to China to be put onto a circuit board, sent back to Mexico to be assembled into TV guts before being shipped back to Asia for its screen or glass.  Then onto a huge ship to cross the Pacific in 2 weeks.

In branding, the supply chain can be similarly messy. First a brand strategy is created (hopefully). Then it’s approved by the CEO and C-suite. The marketing department (often in flux) internalizes the brand brief and puts their own imprimaturs on it. Bring on the vendors. The web people turn it into a home page. The user experience leads finesse it into a lovely journey. The search people seek out clicks. The ad agency develops a campaign. HR massages it into the welcome packet for new employees – 18 months in the making.  And frankly, few of the aforementioned have really read the brand brief. And those who have are probably the department heads, not the workers.

By the time all the work is assembled by hands inside and outside the company, the words and images have traveled over too many oceans. Then the new chief marketing officer comes in (every 18 months) and says, “So, what’s our brand message?”

Tighten up!



Diagnosing Brand Health.


In healthcare, diagnosis is the second most important activity – next only to treatment. One without the other isn’t effective. That is not to say treatment always works. This we know.  But with proper diagnosis we are much more likely to have a positive treatment and outcome.

Similarly, brand strategy requires a diagnosis (critical insight) and treatment (brand plan). The critical insight can be defined many ways and come from many areas yet in its simplest form it is the “identification of a business building or business detracting phenomenon.” It may come from any of the four marketing Ps (product, place, price or promotion) but rest assured the insight is a diagnosis.

Extending the metaphor, the treatment lies in brand strategy — the way we remove the obstacles or magnify the positives. A brand strategy is one claim and three proof planks. This “one and three” framework organizes product, experience and messaging in a rich, memorable and provable way…so as to build sales conviction. It’s practice and regiment. 

If you would like to see some examples of real-life claim and proof arrays and the diagnoses they address, write me at




Brand Strategy On High.


Yesterday I wrote about the need for brand strategy at startups. Today, I’m taking on existing businesses.

When a C-suite executive drives into the executive parking lot in the morning the last thing s/he is thinking about is brand strategy. Let’s take IBM’s CEO, Ginni Rometty.  She may be thinking about invigorating the stock price or how making more money solving the rising security concerns of top clients. Or she may be thinking about the impact of Medicare For All on revenue. But is she debating and prioritizing the “good ats” and “care-abouts” that will shape perceptions of employees, customers, and shareholders? Prob not.  Leave that to the branding nerds. Mistake.

In long term planning meetings at large corporations, the chiefs look at the bottom line by department: product, people, channel, real estate, taxes – not brand strategy. Yet brand strategy touches all those things. Brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. It creates context for decisions across the corporation. From designing physical plant to hiring policy to pricing.  

I tell clients that when a receptionist answers the phone and is asked to make a quick decision on behalf of the company, those who understand the brand strategy have answers.  

For reals.