Believability Vs. Recognition.


I recently came across a brand consultant who rallied around the concept of neuro marketing. Another planner in the brand space whom I really admire is also a fan of the brain and refers to the amygdala a lot in teachings and sellings.

What sets these two smart people apart from a number of brand strategist is that they, apparently, are selling to people with brains. JKJK.

All planners work our brand strategies for people with brains but we must realize those brains are so inundated with sales messages, ad claims, and sales memes, that consumers have become inured to most selling efforts. At the same time marketers have become so attention deficit disordered that they change horses in the middle of the race.  Yearly. Monthly. Sometimes weekly.  And with Google AB testing, even hourly.

This can mess with the amygdala.   

When swimming in an ocean of marketing, where creative is often the differentiator, it is vital to have a selling idea. A selling claim. And it’s not just good enough to say your claim over and over again, you must prove it. Believability is different than recognition.

With all deference to the intricate workings of the brain, brand strategists need to help marketers simplify brand value propositions.  Create patterns of value. And bring them to life through creative means. Without this discipline marketers are shouting into a tornado of wind.




Nonbinary Selling.


There are two kinds of selling. Demand selling where people are actively shopping for a product. And interruption selling where the consumer is not shopping just living their life and you attempt to connect and convince them to buy from you. Think having your credit card in hand and your browser open to Amazon (demand) versus eating dinner and having a solar panel salesman knock on your door (interruption).  

The latter type of selling is harder because first you need get the consumers’ attention. Then you must convince them of the need for the product. And lastly, you have to convince them why to buy your product. A three stepper.

The toughest job I ever had was as a consumer salesman.  Working for a kitchen remodeling company, I was tasked with intercepting consumers at big box stores and signing them up for in-home free estimates. It took me months to figure out how to get people to stop and talk  — only then after breaking the ice could I begin to sell.  

A great deal of advertising today is about capturing attention. Think Geico. It’s 90% attention 10% sell.

Branding strategy is way different than advertising. Brand strategy is totally focused on convincing consumers “why” your brand. Brand strategies that spend time garnering attention or trying to convince consumers to buy a product they’re not shopping for is someone else’s job. The agencies job.

And brand strategies that promise consumer happiness as a brand value are ridiculous. (Unless selling Xanax.) Brand strategy is about selling product. Not movements. Not emotional outcomes. Not attention. It’s about positioning your product, de-positioning competitors, and as Jack Trout and Al Ries would say, establishing a unique place in the mind of consumers tied to an endemic brand advantage.

Brand strategy development is nonbinary. Find your single, key consumer benefit and lock it down.



Shell Life of Brand Strategy.


Brands grow up just as people do. Company employees change. Products change. Consumer behaviors change. And brands mature. It is the job of brand strategy to hold it all together but also to keep the brand relevant. Well-crafted, the deeply identified values of a brand strategy live on as a brand matures. A good master brand strategy keeps a brand from aging.

Brand strategy defeats the aging process by offering brand managers a way to constantly revive and make more exciting an evergreen handful of product or service values.  And lest we think these values are rules which impede creativity, think again. Creativity is as deep or shallow as the purveyor allows. Brand strategy provides an ownable lingua franca, in an overly confusing world of salesmanship.

The best brand strategies live forever. The brand strategy written for ZDNet nearly 25 years ago “For Doer’s Not Browsers” can still be seen in the current line used as a tag on the website “Tomorrow belongs to those who embrace it today.” Sounds like doers to me.  Brands should never dull. They should stand as pillars to the values they impart to consumers. And hang tough.   



Framework Makes the Dream Work.


Everything you need to know about master brand planning you should learn from your client. This presumes you have a modicum of strategy experience and an idea about what you’re being asked to deliver. In other words, a framework. (I was once asked to create a website but explained the need for a brand strategy as foundation.) Many planners use OPF (other people’s frameworks) and that’s okay.  My brand brief was borrowed from McCann-Erickson. My strategy, a one-pager comprising a claim and proof array, was pilloried, massaged and tightened from a titan of American industry and its consulting company. As Faris Yakob suggests, we are all recombinators.

Back to my premise.  Once you have figured out your framework, everything you need to learn should come from your brand. Brand Good-ats and Customer Care-abouts. These things are the groundwork for a good strategy – which is a boil down of all that is learned then packaged into the aforementioned clam and proof array.

If you are interested in this stuff – I kind of nerd out on it — write Steve at WhatsTheIdea for an example or two.




Marketing Coach?


I often speak about “pent up demand” and how important it is to brand and marketing strategy.  If people are clamoring for your product or service you only have to position it and promote it.  But if people don’t know they need your product or service — perhaps it’s a new category, or a complicated value proposition  — then you first need to educate them. Only then can you sell them.  It’s a two-step approach and much more expensive.

What’s The Idea? was initially positioned as a band consultancy. Then it was repositioned as a brand strategy firm. The latter position making it clearer I didn’t design logos or websites or collateral. I do strategy. Everybody knows what strategy is. But brand strategy?  Even brand strategists have a hard time explaining it. 

My problem is brand strategy is not easily explained on the back of a business card. Nor is it something people wake up in the morning thinking about.  It doesn’t directly solve a common problem.  But do you know the problem it does solve?  A problem that most marketers have (pent up demand)?  Poorly performing marketing.

I’m giving serious conside-ration to another reposition: marketing coach.  Everyone knows what marketing is. Everyone knows what a coach does. Two words, no ambiguity.

And guess what my key tool will be as a marketing coach: uh huh, brand strategy.  AKA “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”



Imposter Syndrome In Brand Planning


In brand planning we spend a lot of time thinking. And when you are in a thoughtful, brain-forward business you also tend to think about yourself and your job. A recent discussion in our business is about imposter syndrome. Joey Covington, member of the Jefferson Airplane sang, “Sittin’ around thinking, thinking and a thinking and it didn’t do me so good.” So, my advice to planners is don’t overthink, it can cause consternation.

Imposter syndrome may be real but it’s not a brand planner thing. Not unless you let it. Imposter syndrome among brand planners happens when you’re boiling down your information and have to make some decisions about the key value and the packaging of that value. “Who am I to make such decisions, you might ask.”  But then you just need to nut-up and commit.

This hit home for me yesterday when searching “Pearl Jam’s first concert” on YouTube, which actually was Mookie Blaylock’s first concert. (Brand issue.)  Pearl Jam went on stage that first time and committed.  Were they imposters? You tell me. Did they feel like imposters? Maybe. Certainly, some may have.  But look how that turned out. The show was a little rough around the edges but there were some transcendent moments.

Don’t second guess yourself. Commit. Learn. Correct. Experiment. And love thyself. And if you don’t, get some therapy. Like the rest of the world.



Brand Strategy and Market Discontinuity.


Whenever there is a market discontinuity, it effects brands. The supply chain crisis is one such discontinuity.  Many American companies, caught with their pants drooping, have made huge investments in reshoring or bringing manufacturing back to the States. Though some industries are addicted to manufacturing overseas, such as clothing, sneakers and electronics, smart large-scale companies have decided to build at home.

When big changes like this occur brands that invest in reshoring are apt to think about changing elements of their brand strategy.  Made in America will, no doubt, become more prominent. Delivery guarantees more common. Free shipping, quality, and longer warranties are also likely to be used more.  When markets are in transition these values are important. Especially when prices are rising. And not just because of inflation but because we are making higher quality products (hopefully).

I caution manufacturers not to alter their brand strategies from heritage values as a result of reshoring. I’m certainly open to change, but when change is everywhere, individual brands are best not to follow the wind. 

Stick to your plan. Stick to your current Claim and Proof array.  Brand strategy is built over time.

Tactics are fine, strategy finer.




One is the Loneliest Number. In Brand Strategy Frameworks.


Someone on Twitter or LinkedIn posted the question, “What are your favorite brand strategy frameworks?”  My answer was “It should be your own.”  In a perfect world, there should only be one framework.  But the world isn’t perfect. The fact that there are scads of frameworks shows why brand strategy is stuck in the mud.

I’m not going to explain my framework, though I can in one sentence.  It’s that simple.  But whatever you do don’t Google brand strategy framework.  A while ago I asked Kevin Perlmutter, a friend and one-time employee of Interbrand, who now runs brand strategy firm Limbic Brand Evolution, what the Interbrand strategy framework was.  A bit befuddled he suggested we Google “Interbrand Brand Strategy.”  Here was the result:




All these and pages more, from one company. A company at the top of the strategy pecking order.

Brand strategy as art may have multiple frameworks and approaches. Just as art does.  But brand strategy as science should have one framework. A replicable means of organizing product, experience and messaging. My company’s name is “What’s The Idea?”  In brand strategy there can only be one brand idea or claim.  It’s not What Are The ideas? It’s one idea.

Oh and one framework.




Stake Your Claim. Your Brand Claim.


I used to think 3 proof planks was the way to go for my brand strategy framework. You know, the theory of three – three being, the number of things humans can readily remember.  It was a construct borrowed from the political arena. The more I read the political news though, the more I am beginning to think three is too many. With weeks to go before the elections, political platforms are rampant: Inflation, Migration and Crime.  Or, Abortion, Guns and Infrastructure.  Wait a month and the platforms will all be different.  Three is only good if they remain the same. And that is the discipline of the brand planner. Find the 3 key care-abouts and good-ats and stick with them. Through thick and thin. (Politicians don’t think that way.  They change platforms like underwear.)

Brand strategy at What’s The Idea? is “one claim and three proof planks.”  The claim binds the brand together. ZDNet is for doers not browsers.   Northwell Health is a systematized approach to improving healthcare. Sweet Loren’s is craft cookies au naturel.  These are strategies, not taglines.  Ad agencies can come up with their own campaign memes so long as they deliver the claim. But a claim without proof planks — immovable proof planks — is advertising. Or pell-mell, tactical marketing.

Research your consumers, boil down the key values, stake your claim, and build your brand through proof. Easy.



J&J, Kenvue and the Jets.


I am a Jet Fan.  Where I come from (NY), this is understood to mean a football fan of the NY Jets.  In all other parts of the world, it means helical pieces of aluminum that cool an airplane motor.  See how important words are?  Which brings me to my real point, Johnson & Johnson is changing the brand name of its consumer products division to Kenvue.

Yes, Kenvue.

Johnson’s Baby Powder will now be called Kenvue Baby Powder or Johnson’s Baby Powder by Kenvue.

Apparently the pharmaceutical and devices part of the business is fast growing while the consumer products like Listerine and Tylenol are taking it on the chin from generics and store brands. Dilution of sales in the consumer brands is all the more reason to dial-up smart consumer brand strategy efforts. Doing the opposite is a recipe for failure. This move will accelerate revenue loss and hasten the death of this consumer products spin-off.

The pharma and device company, with much more targeted buyers, should get the new name not the other way around. I understand pharma medicine names are among the worst brand names in the hemi-verse, (Luboxi anyone?) but adding the Johnson & Johnson master brand will only help marginally. Make a clean break.

Here’s what I would do: Rename the consumer products J&J and use Johnson and Johnson (no ampersand) for pharma and devices. Simple. Maybe not approvable by the lawyers but at least it won’t blow up a perfectly brilliant consumer brand name.  

Oh, back to Jet fan.  Johnson & Johnson has nothing but great brand associations worldwide, unless you are a Jet fan.