Brand Positive


As mentioned in an earlier post, brand planners — the day-to-day sort — spend their days looking for problems to solve.  A bit of a bummer day-job, if you ask me. Once articulated, brand planners surround the problem with insights and solutions and level out on a single communication to solve said problem. Hey, it’s a living. It can make for great ads and planning awards.

At What’s The Idea?, brand strategy is a one-time exercise AKA master brand strategy. It’s where I create a toolkit to solve problems. But the tools build the brand. (Tools, comprised of a claim and three proof planks.) So, where an everyday brand planner might create a very effective solution to an individual tactical problem, specific to the problem, a solution based upon the master brand strategy has more focus and aim. The latter makes deposits in the brand bank as Marilyn Laurie used to say.

You can’t just put a logo and tagline on a randomized problem/solution message and call it brand positive. You have to deliver the master brand strategy.

For examples of such master brand strategies including the claim and proof framework, please write me at






After I’ve delivered a brand strategy, a client may ask me “Now what?” Meaning, what do they do differently.  My answer is execute. Make stuff, e.g., marketing materials and programs, that deliver on your brand claim. Market to the strategy — invest in your claim and proof.

What’s The Idea? readers know brand building is not about claim alone.  It’s about proof. Marketers must work the proof planks. (Proof planks are groupings of reasons to believe.)

I often grouse about benefit-shoveling. A tactic used in advertising where marketers load-up on benefits bludgeoning consumers into buying. By the pound, if you will.  Well good communications tell a single story. A linear story that uses logic. Benefit-shoveling confuses. It obfuscates and it overshares. The best ads are single-minded.

For good brand craft, tell your story focused on a single proof plank. Don’t combine all three. Branding is a long game.  Using a sports analogy, don’t explain how good your football team is by talking about the offense, the defense and the coaching all at once. Pick one.

For brand managers approving marketing materials developed by creative partners, start off by asking “What proof plank will we looking at today?” And, “What specific proof(s) will you be highlighting?” That’s brand strategy.  That sets the tone for presentation and approvals of the work.





Brand planners talk a lot about emotional or higher order benefits.  That’s a good thing.  But certainly not the only thing.  In fact, I’m of the mind that those type of bennies are best left to the ad agency and creative people.  In my practice the lower order benefits, the product and service endemic benefits as I like to call, them are where brands are built.

“Campaigns come and go but a powerful brand idea is indelible” are words I live by. Culture changes, musical tastes change, hell the climate changes, but brand strategy shouldn’t. If your product formula doesn’t change, why should your inherent, endemic product value?

The delivery mechanism, the creative, should always be refreshed. Freshed. But not what you stand for. That is, unless what you stand for wasn’t well conceive. That is, wasn’t what customers care about. Or what you’re good at. If your brand position is a new set of Emperor’s new clothes, changed with the appointment of each new CMO or marketing director, you haven’t a chance.

Do the brand strategy leg-work up front. Do it right. Then live it.

As Neil Young says ““To give a love, you gotta live a love.  To live a love, you gotta be part of.”



Chicken or egg?


Over the course of developing a brand strategy business I’ve been lucky enough to work with quite a number of clients. Some work has been pro-bono. Other full blown. I’ve been employed to develop master brand strategy, write marketing plans and even hired to write complicated positioning brochures and websites. My rigor doesn’t really change but the output does.

In some cases, when hewing to the budget I hack my way to efficient use of time employing short cuts.

The brand brief is a key tool I use for most all projects. It’s a document that, when written properly, tells a story using a smart sales logic. When it is tight, I’m able to create more comfortably and sleep better at night. When it includes bumps in the road, that road is less comfortable, and my work takes longer. Some of those hacks, ways to get to the brand claim and proof planks more quickly, don’t use the brief.  Rather, I collect my inputs, classify them into key care-abouts and good-ats, and boil away to my brand strategy answer.

It has created a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma. Brief first? Or brief last?  

Hacks are great to save time.  In my business though storytelling is where my clients light up. Nod their heads. Say I “get” them.  So brief first is preferred.

Peace be upon you.


A Little Stand-Up.


I haven’t done a stand-up presentation in years. Covid saw to that. Yesterday I returned to action and had some butterflies.  Practicing upstairs in my office helped make everything go well – hearing yourself do it out loud makes a huge difference. In practice my jokes and body language were lacking but I knew my material. Brand strategy. 

When at my best, I’m telling stories and the slides offer good flow. Unlike when a kid in the business, my slides were one or two words. Maybe a picture.

“An artist is never more in touch with their art that when performing in front of an audience” is a saying I coined when brand planning for an online musician property — and it’s true for anyone doing stand-up (presentations).

The gig came in in just under an hour (it really flew by) and though there wasn’t a wet eye in the house, I was pleased. The audience clapped. The knowledge shared may even have changed a business life or two. Giving away knowledge is a great feeling. Everyone should do it.  Standing up or not.



Creativity and Brand Strategy


Creativity is serendipity. At least it is for me.  When cranking out ideas for brand strategies I’m drawing from past experiences, cultural observations, linguistics and even the subconscious.  Nothing happens in a vacuum. And to quote Faris Yakob a wonderfully lyrical brand strategist, ideas are recombinant.  Not sure I’ve had an original idea in my life.  

Creative people — or should I say those paid to be creative — are forever in search of the new expression of an idea. The fresh. The never done.  But we know that the recombinant notion applies here as well.  Even music is a combination of notes. Banging the music metaphor a bit more, creatives are looking to play more jazz than pop in their ideation. But the finished product, the published product, often ends up being pop. (Insert client here.)

What differentiates a creative output from that of a brand strategist is one is guided by a sales intention while the other is freeform. Unbridled creativity gathers attention for attention’s sake. When attention and “freshness” are achieved to the satisfaction of the creative mind, then strategy might be backed in. Tagged on. Bolted on.

In the creativity game, the primary goal is to engage or entertain the brain to fire off a synapse.  Done well, brand strategy does both: fire off the synapse yet with a bias to purchase. It’s not easy. And to straddle both needs, the brand strategist cannot be boring. S/he must inspire. Otherwise, you are making advertising. Hee hee.



AAdvantage. Not!


I have been an American Airlines Advantage member since 1998.  That’s 25 years. I use their Citi Mastercard for all my What’s The Idea? expenses and an occasional gift for the wifus, who knows what transacts on the family card. I like American Airlines and I like Citibank. I’m loyal to a fault. 

In 25 years, here’s what American Airlines has done for me. Allowed me to cash in points for two plane tickets to San Juan. Offered one upgrade to first class a year when I was flying a lot for a work. Denied me two free tickets using points to Hawaii because I wanted to go through Phoenix. They allowed me to redeem through Phoenix but then I had to go out of pocket from there to Hawaii.

Granted, I’m not a great customer. But when I hear friends talking about all the freebies and special deals they get to Europe, I wonder why I stay with AA. The rewards business has changed significantly over the years.  Money back. Double points. Free this, promotion that.  Not me. I barely get a free flight every 6 years. Yet I stay loyal.

Kids put everything on their credit cards — from mortgage payments to weddings (don’t ask). My kids probably haven’t touched a dollar bill in years. And they get rewards. Me? Ugatz.

Hey American Airlines, you get all my airline business, you my business expenses, you get my undying loyalty. I get Citicard and AAdvantage junk mail by the pound and an occasional flight. My kids go to Europe on Chase Sapphire points.

Something’s gotta give. It’s probably me.




Working With Creatives.


Creative people are typically problem solvers. We non-creatives tend to think they stare at a blank page as if a Sisyphean obstacle.  But they’re creative. Their brains boil over with ideas.  They love a blank page/screen.

Strategists think we help creatives by giving them direction. Stimuli. A subjective hand. Well, more often than not they don’t want it.

I recently sat through a Sweathead preso where Aisha Hakim, a creative director at 72 and Sunny, told hundreds of planners not to write longwinded briefs. In fact, she said don’t write briefs at all. She doesn’t use them. I get her POV. The longer the wind, the more the blank page isn’t blank. Confusion may reign. Her advice, if I got it correctly, identify a problem, explain why you’re the solution, and drop the mic. Let the creatives go.

Is there a happy medium?  Yes.  It’s called the client. Creatives in advertising or do have a daddy.  The client.  The person who approves the work. Without a client and money to spend a creative is an artist.

So, sell the brand strategy to the client well before the work begins. Prepare the client for a value proposition that is business-winning and make sure they believe it.  It is about them, after all.  Then let them be the arbiter of the work. Brand planning must take place up stream.

Don’t tell creatives how to do their jobs. Share the business winning framework with them, give a hint or two, then get out of the way. Let them thrive. And let the client be the client.



Proof or Poof.


Kevin Perlmutter, a friend and strategist with Limbic Brand Evolution, a practice focusing on neuromarketing, posted today on LinkedIn about the importance of understanding consumer feelings. And presumably, moving those feelings toward a bias for one’s product.  Good stuff.

I like to do the same. But readers (all 6 of you, hee hee) know my framework is less about mining feelings and more about mining proof — proof that drives feelings.  

My brand planning approach is driven by an awareness that marketing and advertising today is “90% claim and 10% proof.”  That is, it tells you what to feel rather than give you the evidence that allows you to feel it. And believe it. That requires proof.  I can say I make the best pizza in Los Angeles, but where’s the proof.

My rigor for brand planning mines proofs. Demonstrations. Evidence. Existential phenomenon. Sure, I write a brand brief but it is the proof that drives the strategy and the claim.  It’s proof or poof. 

I’s sure Kevin would agree. Check him out.