Yearly Archives: 2014

Change the signs or change the strategy?


sign installation Why is it that many companies understand the value of paying for and adhering to new logo designs yet don’t understand the value of and adherence to a brand strategy?

Logos are expensive and easy. Get a branding company to write a brief (maybe) and turn loose some designers. Approve some black and white options, wait two weeks for the full color spectacular. Then another 2 weeks for the tweaks and 5 more for the big presentation with the graphics standards manual leave-behind. Within a year every building sign is changed, every truck repainted, the website has new clothes and the marketing department is churning out the logo’ed baseball caps and PDFs. Bam!

But present a brand strategy (claim and 3 proof planks) and marketing plan (obs/strats/tactics) that included not just messaging but staffing, product and experience recommendations and you get that far away stare. It’s easy to change the signs, not so easy to alter behavior. Agencies know what to do with a brand strategy brief. They make stuff. Clients, though, have a harder time navigating brand strategy.

Top marketing executives understand branding is about claim and proof. Proof and deeds. Deeds and experiences. Strategically organized and tightly managed. Peace.

Hey, I’m sellin’ here.


There is no strategy without tactics. Guys like me who write about brand strategy may seem like we’re above tactics, not wanting to get our hands dirty. (Twenty years ago, Peter Kim a McCann-Erickson mentor told me “Once I’ve sold the brand idea, I want to be done.” Everything after that gets messy, he explained. Approving ads, media, talent and all other things subjective.

The thing about planners, especially older planners, is we like to understand the big picture first. We like to go big. Once we understand how to solve the category, the deepest pent up consumer need, then we can focus on the specifics. Problem is, marketers aren’t looking to solve the world’s ills, they’re looking to sell shit. Flat out, right away, cha-ching the cash register, sell shit. Today in this fast twitch media world, marketing directors want their chunk of the returns. Big data? Hell no. Little data about my product. Yes. Data that says “more sales.” Period.

So we planners need to get the pipes out of our mouths and start talking tactics with clients. (Maybe keep the big picture stuff to ourselves a little more.) All my rants about claim and proof? Here’s one: Good branding works. Sales are proof.


The Exploratory


As a consultant I am a big fan of the exploratory meeting. Both parties at exploratory meetings are explorers. And I love explorers. Consumers are explorers. But, sadly, we don’t always treat them as such. As much as brand planners focus on repetitive brand behavior, we know that the “buy moment” (as my friends at BrandTuitive call it) is best when exciting and enthusiastic. Dull and droning buy moments create “satisfied” moments. “Satisfied customers will leave you everyday” someone recently said in a seminar.

So we explore. In search of new stories. New ways to share. New people and inspiration. Every day is exciting for the explorer. And if you can make your consumer’s day a little more exciting, a little richer, you are doing your job. Peace!




How change happens. Sometimes.


We Americans don’t like to be pushed around. Yet we are a odd, lazy people sometime. If a story appears in the local weekly newspaper about a malnourished child, the porch of the child’s home will be filled with food by nightfall. However, when we read one third of Yemeni children under the age of 5 are undernourished we flip the page.

North Korea has bullied Sony and a number of theater chains into pulling the film The Interview, a film that might normally gross $75M. But this bullying has pissed off Americans to the point where we’re actually primed to do something. But what? Were Sony to release the film over the web and ask for a $2.00 donation for special fund to drop DVDs of the movie over Pyongyang, the movie would likely be the highest grossing film of all time. No matter the quality.

This satire was an important movie. It has the ability to disrupt how films are distributed. If Sony chooses to crowd source funding for the movie it may lead us down a new path. One sparked by a bully. And this is how change happens sometime. “For good people to do something.” Peace.

Evidence of change.


Reading an article yesterday on Haider al-Abadi, the new prime minister of Iraq, greatly informed my brand planning thinking. In two ways. What’s the Idea? readers know how I feel about brand “claim and proof.” Well, evidence is another word for proof. When Mr. Abadi wants Iraqis to know there is a new sheriff in town, and that there will be a more pluralistic nation state in Iraq he did a few things differently. While predecessor al-Maliki went before Parliament 2 times in 8 years, Mr. Abadi has been 3 time in his first couple of months. When there were disputes between tribes threatening to hold up military action against ISIS, Mr. Abadi rolled up his sleeves and mediated traditional blood money solutions.

If his claim is “change” the evidence must be tangible.

Learning for brand planners is similar. But before we get to claim and evidence we need to deeply understand the category. A thorough understanding of the bigger category picture, is important before we focus on our specific brand work. For instance, I understand what it takes to improve K12 education before I recommend an interactive white board solution. I understand what it takes to fix the U.S. healthcare system, before I recommend a physician group. I know the impact of obesity on the masses and families before I recommend a weight loss modality. And so on.

When a brand planner gets the big picture, s/he can then safely focus on the smaller picture. And when serving up that smaller picture claim, be sure to provide lots of memorable evidence. All claim and no proof is wasted an all but the production company. Peace.


Checking out of marketing.


Friday I posted that face-to-face communication, bolstered by listening, understanding and empathy is a strong way to convince someone of another point of view.

The problem with marketing today is that too much emphasis is placed on pushing product benefits while not enough focus is placed on consumer need. A great salesman, like a great physician, takes the time to listen before prescribing. And to truly hear. But ads don’t have the ability to listen, they are only one way vehicles. The best they can do is recount having listened to consumers in the past and package accordingly. A work around. We tend to flatten out the selling process in marketing by jumping to the benefit which minimizes effectiveness. Consumer are complicated.

The web allows us to unbundle this flattened process and that’s a very good thing. Let’s find ways to listen, be empathic and helpful on the web. Then we’ll move the sales ball ahead. Proceed to check out? Peace.


Knock, knock, knockin’ with a purpose.


I read an interesting piece of research today, originally published in Science Magazine. The findings suggested a face-to-face talk with someone about a topic in which the conversation initiator has a stake is an effective communications tool. (Sounds like a duh, no?) The poll was conducted with a sample of 972 people and the topic was gay marriage. The methodology was neighborhood canvassing and the targeted people were against marriage equality. It turns out 20% of people who were engaged by canvassers changed their minds. What’s even more interesting is that only those canvassed by gays maintained that changed opinion 9 months later.

A couple of observations:

  • Nobody likes to be sold. Most door knockers are selling and it’s a nuisance. The script in this case called for canvassers to speak, listen, ask questions, show respect and dig deeper. The robotic spew was left at home.
  • Canvassers with skin the game are more believable and more convincing. Personal connection to the topic reduces the “sales” factor. (Non-gay canvassers altered opinion, but not over time.)

The study suggests a tactic that might be more effective than most in dealing with long time, deep seeded conflicts such as Christians-Muslims and Blacks-Whites. Why wouldn’t it work for Red Sox-Yankees or Burger King-McDonald’s. Tink about it (as my Norwegian Aunt might say.) Peace.


Insight Cabinets in Brand Planning.


A wonderful expression was used in a New York Times article today on the expansion of the American Museum of Natural History. It referred to the changing nature of museums and the old role of museum as “cabinets of curiosity,” where things were collected and catalogued. Museum president Ellen V. Futter, nicely captured the new role saying, “Now what we’re interested in is what the connections are among the different things we have. It’s a much more interdisciplinary world.”

Brand planners sometime get caught up in cabinets of curiosity. And we obsess about them. I know I can. We find an insight that just screams “importance.” And uniqueness. And cultural spark.  But to use Ms. Futter’s words, we must not forget the interdisciplinary role the insights play in the buying habits and behavior of consumers.  The insight we unlock may actually be trumped by another factor. And though it may be a mundane factor besmirch our exciting, newly uncovered insight, we must not overlook it. Awesome insights don’t operate in vacuums. So find them, truly see them, and make sure they fit into the full pattern of the buying consumer. Peace.



Slow the Babbling Brook of Tweets.


A Twitter account is not unlike a thick magazine. One buys a magazine for the writing, the subject matter, pictures and opinion. As the magazine grows broader in its content, as ads are added and more ancillary content printed the book gets heavier. And more sloppy. And cluttered. To me, that’s what happens when you fill your Twitter feed with too much prattle. Everyone loves the randomness of Twitter and the ability to learn from others, but how is that going to happen when you follow 6 thousand people? The chaff hides the wheat as they say.

Top brands tweet 20 plus times a day to break through the noise. I follow 1,500+ people and a single tweet disappears under the fold in a matter of seconds. For people who follow thousands it’s probably milliseconds. I know there are lists and filters but I don’t use them; if there is someone I want to click up, I click them up.

So I’m selective. I review people’s tweets before I follow. I make sure they are Posters not Pasters. I read what they care about? Is it interesting? Entertaining? Can I learn something? If not, I don’t follow or follow back. And I don’t cull the herd too often, but it’s not a bad idea. Keep the people you follow at a more manageable level and Twitter becomes more powerful. My 2 cents. Peace.


Unilever pulling the lever.


Last night I watched a really nice TV spot called “new leaders” on the subject of world hunger. Part of Unilever’s “Project Sunlight,” the spot made me feel good and actually tear up. It’s a wonderful cause and the spot is exceptional theater. I’m a sap for good.

just mayo

A couple of years ago Unilever was being dinged for deforestation while harvesting palm oil. It reacted slowly and in a clunky way before taking the negative press seriously. That’s what a protest or two will do for you. Fast forward to today where Unilever is bringing suit against Hampton Creek a U.S. manufacturer of mayonnaise. The product Unilever is targeting is “Just Mayo,” a healthier for you product targeting Unilever’s cash cow mayo staples Hellman’s and Best Foods. Just Mayo is vegan, eggless and non-GMO. If it can pass the taste test, it will be very successful.

As the Mayo wars heats up, Unilever is dialing up the positives around its master brand. This is damage control, free enterprise, electioneering and marketing at its best and worst. It is also expensive. Unilever should never have gotten itself into this position. It should have created Just Mayo before Hampton Creek. That’s marketing too. The Product P of the 4 Ps.

Unilever is working to be a good corporate citizen. A misstep here and there are to be expected. For Unilever, more good will come of this learning moment than bad. Let’s wait it out. Peace.