The Is.


I share my brand strategy framework quite often. To the point where my brand planning memes are beginning to take hold on Google. Search “Claim and proof array” as an example. In an open source world this type of sharing is admirable. Back pat, back pat. But where the rubber meets the road frankly is in the actual strategy. Frameworks have to be filled out.  That’s the monies.

All planners do brand discovery, but it’s what you do with the learning that creates the positioning success. We can talk about adherence and creative interpretations and lots of other back-end factors, but getting to the strategy idea is what differentiates one planner from the next. Frameworks help don’t get me wrong, but the decisions to get to the “idea” are the bread and butter.

I use the metaphor of the stock pot on my post-discovery efforts. Everything into the pot then apply heat. After a few days, what’s left in the bottom of the pot is… the is. The bullion. The power. AI ain’t gonna do it. Creative directors aren’t going to do it. The CEO isn’t going to do it.  It’s the brand planner.  And not all planners are created equal.



A Brand Strategy Pitch Gone Right.


I was pitching a brand strategy to a client a couple of summers ago, using a presentation process which I replicate pretty much each time.  I lead with some pertinent quotes from interviewees and other smart people, then list off the names of those interviewed (stakeholders, customers, prospects and SMEs), and finally present the brand brief, which I read. It’s a serial story with key chapters/headings which leads to the brand claim and proof array.

Since I’m talking about the company, and use more storytelling language than business language, I tend to have the decisionmakers’ ears. I mean, who doesn’t like to hear about themselves.  When the heads are nodding and the poesy flying, the room warms up. In this particular pitch, things were going well until the CEO interrupted mid-brief and asked me to skip to the end. There is always an end. Apparently busy is as busy does. This had never happened before but what the heck. I went off-piste and jumped to the idea (claim.)  A good planner should be prepared for anything.  If I was flustered I tried not to show it…but, hell, I was in the middle of my song.   

Anyway, the CEO made some good points about the claim: It was too focused on the brand “good-ats”, not enough focused on the customer “care-abouts.” So, I agreed to take another pass and worked out the strategy to everyone’s satisfaction – albeit it a couple of weeks later.

A story from the trenches. Things change. Adapt. And don’t fall in love with your anything.



Truth and Proof in Branding.


My brand, What’s The Idea?, offers up the notion that the “idea” is the key to branding. Most people who spend money on marketing will agree creativity is the lifeblood of advertising. Creativity feeds advertising, marketing’s most important tool. Of course, there is nothing wrong with fame and/or as Faris Yakob calls it “paid attention.”  But all the advertising, paid attention and marketing in the world, if disorganized or constantly changing will not build a brand.  It may sell from time to time, from tactic to tactic, but it does not establish a product or service in the mind of a consumer as a brand. That takes an idea — the apex of an organizing principle.

My mission at WTI is to find an idea and an organizing principle that creates indelible positions for brands.

One word that creatives and brand planners use a lot in our business is “truth.”  Product or consumer truths are where planners dabble. A truth is likely a hopefully provable observation that can replicate. I, however, prefer the word “proof.” It’s more to the point…and more scientific. It’s binary. Proof cements belief. Proof undergirds a claim (the idea.)

In a nutshell, the organizing principle used to build brands – at least here at What’s The Idea? – is one claim (idea) and three proof planks. That’s the secret sauce. That’s how the sausage is made. That is the strategy behind brand building. Keyboard drop!



Purposeful Marketing is an Oxymoron.


Now please don’t think I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. And I do not want you to think me a crab or branding troll… but I do want to suggest there’s a good deal of talk going around on the role of Mission and Purpose in branding. It’s a bit over-baked.

Mission and Purpose rarely have a place in brand strategy. They belong under the heading of Philanthropy on the website, handled by corporate governance people.

Brand strategy is all about customer care-abouts and brand good-ats: values endemic to the product or service. They should drive product value, shareholder value and loyalty.  What a brand does with its earnings, insofar and mission/purpose, is up to them. True Mission and Purpose companies should be not-for-profit or non-profits. Yeah, yeah, yeah Patagonia. There are always exceptions. But watering the tea is not a best practice of branding strategy.

As Sergio says “sell more, to more, more often and at higher prices.”  Eyes on the prize. 

Sorry if that’s some capitalist shiz, but it’s a truth.





A brand planner is a lot like a chef.  One must amass lots of information, or using metaphor, ingredients and assemble them into a unique, tasty dish.  The brand planner’s ingredients are the language — the spoken or written words assembled by the planner. Listening to customers, prospective consumers, stakeholders, SMEs (subject matter experts) and journalists yield language from which to cull insights and establish key care-about and good-ats.

It is the culling or boiling-down (another cooking metaphor) of those words that moves the planner closer to a positioning idea and strategy. But it is the language that helps the planner get closer.  Specific words resonate. Specific product or service patois. Words and phrases that move the interviewees Galvanic Skin Response — monitored or simply gleaned. This is what we are listening for.  Blah, blah, blah language is just that. Excitement, passion and emotion are the “tells” we seek.

Keywords: listen, language, repeat.


PS. No humans were tested for this blog post. Ever.

Brand Strategy Interviews.


The difference between interviewing an employee at a brand and the brand customer is significant. 

Employees are tough to interview because their answers are often generic.  I once interviewed a cardiothoracic surgeon and department head who was a billion-dollar health system’s key earner and asked what makes his practice one of the best in the country. His answer? “It’s the care. It’s the people.” So, when he is elbow deep in a patient bleeding out, does he ask his assistant, “Pass me the care” or “pass me the people”? I don’t think so.

I can’t tell you how many employees I’ve interviewed have crowed on about “customer service” or “quality” or “our people” thinking they’re being helpful.  It’s as if some employees have been programmed by TV adds. If they don’t have something specific to say about the product value, they default to a generic marketing-speak.

Customers, on the other hand, are way more to the point. More specific. They’re happy to share their likes and care-abouts. Customers don’t water down or default their preferences.

A good brand planner is able to get employees to provide specifics about product and service superiority.  Proof of product superiority are the things upon which strong brands are built. Boiling down and organizing these demonstrable proofs with “what customers want” is the job of the brand strategist. Customer care-abouts and brand good-ats.




Why Three Proof Planks?


Yesterday in my post about brand strategy framework (one claim, three proof planks), I said the reason for three proof planks was that was what the mind could process. It’s not like consumers are sitting around parsing advertising and consumer communications all the-live-long-day.  If fact, the opposite is quite true.  With all the pablum being spoon fed to consumers each day on their devices and in the media it’s no wonder people can’t remember any brand values.  Add to that, the need to create so-called creative ads to gather attention — ads that bury product values — and you can see the dilemma.

If a marketer had a $75 million annual budget, it would be easier to establish three proof planks beneath a brand claim — but most mid- and small business are lucky to have a quarter million in marketing spend. Therefore, 3 proof planks for a brand strategy may seem ambitious. That said, most smaller businesses aren’t national and can make a fine living targeting smaller customer bases, using lesser budgets. 

Brands are built by owning a space in the mind of the consumer. A brand claim is the fastest way to that space. The proof planks are the way to make that claim believable. To make that claim salient.  To make that claim stand out.

For more information on claim and proof as a brand strategy framework, please write Steve at WhatsTheIdea.




Simple Is As Simple Does.


Every time I present my brand strategy framework it gets easier. Most people in the business are prone to talk brand strategy theory. Many use Venn diagrams when trying to be scientific. When just using their words they quote marko-babble terms like “authenticity,” “brand voice,” “personality,” “mission,” “story,” “journey” and the babble goes on. In meetings lately, I’ve been sharing a PPT slide showing the Google results when searching the term “Interbrand brand strategy framework.”  There are 114,000 results. And, my-my, don’t click on the images tab.

At What’s The Idea? brand strategy fits into a framework both easy to understand and easy to convey. Brand strategy is not string theory as some planners might have you believe. Our framework comprises “One Claim” and “Three Proof Planks.” Claim and proof.  That’s it.

The claim is a boil down of all key customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. What people want and what the brand provides… tobest meet that need. All in a simple statement. The claim is effectively a tagline, but for creative agencies to interpret in their own words. The proof planks are a troika of evidence that sets the claim like concrete. There are three planks because that is what the mind can process.

If you found your way here because you are looking for a simple strategy to guide your brand building, write Steve at WhatsTheIdea.




Targets and Insights.


One of the tools I use in brand planning is the brand brief. It’s a document that tells a serial story leading to the “idea” or what I call the brand claim. The end of the brief outlines three proof planks that give life too the claim. Most brand planners have their own briefs.

An important part of the brief is the target. Getting into the head of the target(s) helps you connect. It helps you create a message that resonates and fires off the preference synapses.

I like to give my targets a name…something catchy, not demographic. One such target, written for assisted home healthcare company, was named Captains of the Castle. The product was an acute geriatric care service, costing a good deal more than typical insurance would cover. The target was high net worth individuals. The name played off of captains of industry, which many of the patients were, and also the expression “A man’s home is his castle.” 

Sadly, for Captains of the Castle, men and women of means used to having their way, assisted home care is really quite the opposite. They tended to be people who have often lost control of their mobility and other faculties. Quite a change in status. The brand claim “individuals require highly individualized care” spoke to this friction. The friction between control and loss of control.  In this case the key brand insight came from the target. Insights can come from anywhere in the brief. Insights are the lifeblood of the brand plan.