YETI About to Get Cold Shoulder.


Say it ain’t so Yeti. You are not really opening up more and more retail stores. It sounds as if you’ve been bitten by the success bug and it could be your undoing. Yeti is a very cool brand name, which I first came across on my handlebar grips. It seems there’s a mountain bike company by the name too. Yeti coolers are a gold mine. Now a public company with board members hungry at the trough, Yeti is looking to grow faster than the laws of nature allow. Hence, retail stores.

The problem is that Yeti is a sales handgrenade for Bass Pro Shops, West Marine, Cabella’s, REI, and Dicks Sporting Goods and an assortment of mom and pop and chain hardware stores across the country. Let’s not even mention Amazon who accounts for 30% of Yeti sales.

These channel partners built displays around Yeti products. Moved prime store real estate and displays around to help build excitement. These partners were your biggest fans. Now you’re trying to take traffic and sales away from them. Yo lo mistako.

It reminds me of when Krispy Kreme changed its channel strategy and started flooding the market with product. “Pick up your cold donuts at the gas station,” was the big growth idea. IPO- and CEO-driven initiatives.

Yeti has a great product but they’ve taken their eyes off the ball. They are going from underdog to over-dog, and their biggest fans will be leading the way.



Marmot’s super bowl spot.


(This post originaly appeared February 10, 2016, then was taken down die to a hack.)

I love the Marmot brand. I ski in Marmot, I sleep in Marmot, I do outdoors stuff in Marmot. I want to own more of it.  The gear is well-designed, engineered-to-the-max and good looking.  They’ve done a wonderful job with branding and marketing. (I have tend pole that bent, and it doesn’t even bother me. Why? Because Marmot is like family.)

Then, before the Super Bowl, I saw a Marmot teaser ad campaign and knew I wasn’t going to like. Super Sunday I saw the real thing.  It’s a Goodby, Silverstein and Partners spot, focusing around, you guessed it, a marmot. Were this toilet tissue or insurance, maybe. But cuddly talking Marmot? Oy. I can only imagine the 2 other campaigns the agency pitched to beat this one. It should never have been presented. Lazy ass trade craft. It is so unfitting of the brand.

I can just imagine the engineers in the goose down research center, breathing feathers all day, watching the game on TV with their friends. “A talking marmot, really?” No wonder advertising and marketing people have a bad name in engineering focused companies.

As a brand strategy guy and Marmot fan it was a sad day. Even if the spot tested off the charts with the teens and tweens – the next generation of buyers – it was a brand mistake. A 5 million dollar mistake. And that’s a lot of feathers.





Brands. Flags. And Design.


Is it possible to like design work, yet dislike the product? I believe it is. Case in point. I find the above variation of a civil Middle Eastern flag quite compelling. Attractive would not be the right word, but there is something about the palm tree and the swords that create muscle memory and power. Swords are cool as design elements even though murdering journalists taints the fuck out of the product. Abhorrently so. 

Speaking of palm trees, the South Carolina state flag uses a palmetto and crescent dropped out of an indigo background. It’s pert cool though monochromatic. I’ve seen some bastardizations of the flag characters with other colors that really enhance the design. A license plate with some setting sun colors are quite nice. A strong promotional tool, the flag and mark.

And lastly, and I almost hesitate to type this one, is the confederate flag. It’s an interesting, yet simple design. As a stupid kid who went to college in FL, I hung a confederate flag on my wall oblivious to the pain and suffering it denoted. I liked the design. I also hung some Amerind prints on my wall not knowing what they stood for. I liked the colors.

Design is personal. As a tool in branding, design can be powerful. It engenders feelings and symbolism. But is also can act as a magnet for negative actions and behaviors. That’s why brand management is so important.

Brands need to flag the “good.”



Innovation and Sloppy Money.


Many business evolutions these days come from product or service improvement or product or service disruption. Disruption, as a term of art, began as a meme and book title in the ad business. It meant stop consumers in their tracks – challenge the messaging roll, if you will. Then disruption moved on to productization and product development. Charlene Li and Altimeter Group go on about how disruption helps develop and corner new markets.

Whether improving or disrupting, it’s likely you are looking to “innovation” to deliver the goods. Remember the term R&D? Research and development? That was a common business function; a year-over-year line item on the annual budget. Especially for larger companies. The mega companies still have R&D groups or facsimiles hereof but most companies these days find it more economical to seek “new ideas” from hired innovation companies: boutiques, workshop groups and consultants.

Innovation is being outsourced.

At the higher end, these innovation engagements can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. What I call sloppy money. This ain’t agile. You can call Accenture Interactive in to solve your banking problem, but it’s not likely to be any different than the problem that existed in the 70s. Just with an interactive twist. If you must outsource your innovation, it’s best to start with a smaller outside team –a more manageable team. A team with more to gain with a business win. Not an army.

Problem identification is the first deliverable. Sloppy money makes for more problems, not less.



Truth or Proof?


According to Stewart Alter, a McCann-Erickson historian and one-time head of publicity, copy chief Ralph St. Hill, at predecessor company The H.K. McCann Company coined the term Truth Well Told. A brilliant, if simple, piece of poesy, the line illuminates McCann offices on every continent.

Talk to brand planners past and present and you are likely to hear the word “truth” many times. Words like transparency and authenticity are pop planning words, but truth has generational staying power. Truth in advertising makes lots of sense. If consumers sniff out even a hint of mistruth, they begin to shut down.

As a brand planner I’ve built a practice around proof. Proof is what delivers truth. Proof is a tangible. It’s dare I say “existential.” Branding and adverting are certainly cousins but branding is the chicken and advertising is the egg. The chicken keeps giving birth to eggs. Brand strategy, done well, keeps giving birth to ads.

The way to build a brand is to create an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging, the framework for which is one claim and three proof planks, and stick to it. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center may be the best cancer care anywhere (truth), but the fact that they get the toughest cases in the world is the why (proof).

Brand planner hard drives across the globe are filled with proofs and truths. Search out the former in order to build your brand strategies.



Financial Branding.


“What would you like the power to do?” is the tagline of Bank of America. Oy. If not a tagline, then it’s a campaign line. I checked the website (I’m a custie, BTW) and it doesn’t appear on the home page and is not locked up with the logo. So let’s call it a campaign line. But honestly, campaign lines are de facto taglines.

No grammarian I, but it seems you shouldn’t end a sentence with the word “do.” Then there is the bigger problem of asking consumers a question. It suggests the brand doesn’t have the answer. It’s also a passive approach. It’s not a claim. Brands are best when they are staking claim to something.

Selling, on the other hand, is driven by listening so as to meet needs. Building a brand on listening, however, is not the smartest move – not unless you have been a brand that has never listen to its customers before. Then it’s news. Listening is the price of doing business. It’s a given.

Bank of America is doing some neat things in the world of banking. It has an amazing name. Lot’s of money. Lots of branches. But its brand is sorely undefined. Like most banks.

I find it hard to believe a gazillion dollar company, tasked with managing the money of millions of consumers, can’t find a claim and proof array to hang its hat on.







Can Humor Be a Brand Plank?


I wonder about this as I dive into the Aeroflow Breast Pump social media campaign. Aeroflow is a reseller of durable medical equipment in Western North Carolina, but has sectioned off a nice piece of business helping to provide new mothers with breast pumps. They assign a rep to each case and help moms through the paperwork associated with securing pumps and paying the insurance. They then walk moms through the nuances, hardships and solutions associated with pumping. This is one of those business meeting pent-up demand.

But can humor be an endemic plank that proves the brand’s claim? I go around and around on this but ultimately land on yes. If humor is a customer care-about or brand good-at, it can help brand value. The big but, however, is turning it into a good-at; not everyone is funny. And even through the Instagram account of Aeroflow Breast Pumps is always chortle-worth, even belly laugh worthy, that’s only one or two people at the social media controls.

Humor puts for nervous or worried moms at ease. It’s medicinal. It’s therapeutic. I really works for Aeroflow Breast Pumps. It wouldn’t work for the other Aeroflow businesses, per se. That’s why Aeroflow is smart to have made sequestered this business a bit.

Humor, done wrong, can be corny and an impingement on the brand, so Aeroflow has to be careful. “Two breast feeding women walk into a bar,” told by a 50 year old dude is not a good idea. But the way it is handled in social, is great. I’d love to see how humor could be introduced into other areas of the business. The beginning of a cool case, this.




Entenmann’s and Bimbo.


There is a wonderful cake and confections brand in the U.S. called Entenmann’s. It began in Brooklyn, NY in 1898 and has festooned breakfast tables across America ever since. The logo, the white box and blue script lettering are known near and far. Entenmann’s introduced the clear, see-through box cover to let the product do the talking. The product is great, the packaging wonderful and the name fun to say.

After a couple of other owners, Entenmann’s was purchased by Mexican conglomerate Grupo Bimbo (pronounced beem-bo). Bimbo Bakeries USA’s holdings now also include Thomas’, Boboli, Arnold, Freihofer’s, and Stroehmann. Bimbo is the real deal.

It may seem ethnocentric but I’m betting Bimbo Bakeries USA would immediately increase its value by changing its name to Entenmann’s. I wouldn’t lose the Thomas’, Arnold and Boboli names, but I would master brand them under Entenmann’s.

Bimbo has cred among the growing U.S. population of consumers with South and Central American heritage but can’t begin to compete with this American heritage brand that makes the mouth water. A brand that causes people to get in their cars and drive to the store. 

Hey Bimbo USA, take this prized asset and ride. Hard. Blow it up and all your other brands will follow.



White Room (No Black Curtains.)


A cultural anthropologist, brand planner and journalist walk into a bar. Well maybe not the journalist. The bartender says what would you like. They all three say nothing. That sounds like a bad joke but it’s the topic of this post. When you come to a people, a consumer set or news story, you should aspire to bring nothing to the table.

One thing I’ve learned about brand planning is to go all tabula rasa or clean slate on an assignment. That is, I don’t bring any preconceived ideas with me about the people, the market or the selling environment. It’s so hard.

Many years ago, I was selling ads to the CEO of AT&T Microelectronics. In his spacious Berkley Heights, NJ office, standing right by the table was a cardboard cutout of a man. A customer, he explained. To always remind him of their importance.

If I ever leave the confines of my home office for a real office the first room I build will be a white room. There will be no adornments. No pictures. No stimuli. No nothing. A white table, white chairs and white walls. This will be a collective reminder that we (client too) must come at an assignment without bias.

(At another AT&T meeting, this one at AT&T Consumer Products, I was given a tour of a room in the R&D facility that had zero echo. The floor was suspended, the walls baffled. Total sound absorption. No echo. This might be my second conference room investment. Hee hee.)

Coming to an assignment clean is critical. It maxims freshness.



Syllabus For Brand Planners.


A brand strategy is best delivered through a syllabus. A lesson plan for brand building by way of education.

Teachers know the most efficacious education revolves not around rote recitation of lesson, but participation and interaction.  

I was lucky enough to work as marketing director at an ed tech company that made most of its money selling interactive white boards. They brought me onboard to help flip the business model from hardware to professional development – that is, to teach teachers how to use technology more effectively to improve learning.  I dove into the science of teaching (pedagogy) with the goal of understanding learning. There is bad teaching but there is no bad learning.

This whole deep dive had a vigorous impact on my brand planning practice. In my brand brief, the keys to learning were improved “classroom design,” “better teacher-student relationship” and stronger “parental/guardian involvement.” With learning the goal and teaching the vehicle how I thought about marketing was recast.

Teaching had for too long been about broadcasting information at kids. And marketing the same. Using education as an analog for marketing, classroom design became the media or the experience (retail). The student-teacher relationship translated to consumer care-abouts and attitudes (a long-standing brand planner tool). And parental involvement aligned perfectly with marketing influencers.    

Now these three notions are not foreign to brand planners but they aren’t always part of the syllabus. To develop brand value faster and make it more everlasting, one needs to focus on consumer learning, not marketer teaching.  That takes a new syllabus.