Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Three Adjectives.


Adjectives are a dime a dozen in marketing. Here are three that are easy to toss about: simple, revolutionary and disruptive. But these are the words used to describe Theranos, perhaps the most successful start-up ever launched. Theranos uses a small draw of blood, accessed by a pin prick, to provide a broad range of lab tests – where before multiple draws were needed.

No one, especially a brand person, will argue with the need for simplicity. Modern man likes simple. We also like the fulfillment of hard work, buy in our consumables, simple is golden.  Revolutionary is a consumerists dream as well. While evolution is the way of life, revolution gets noticed. And celebrated. Lastly, disruptive. New products and services that take massive market share and revenue from competitors or other categories are considered disruptive. Reality TV shows were for a while disruptive for scripted dramas and comedies.

It’s hard to be a marketer and hit all three adjectives. Commerce today is often built around commoditization. But success lies in these 3 adjectives. View product development this way. View marketing and communications this way. You will see the payouts sooner than you think.



What’s Next in POS?


POS stand for point of sale. It used to mean in-store displays. Today it covers a lot more. It covers ecommerce and some online advertising — certainly online ads that put a customer one click from purchase.

Not too long ago the vast majority of advertising reached customers while nowhere near shopping. TV and radio hit consumers with ads that molded opinion and attitude for a future purchase.  Then 800 numbers on TV ads allowed custies to dial-up a sale from the couch, as so did shopping networks like QVC. But the real breakthrough in POS was the web, where people actually go to shop. 

POS advertising online and POS advertising in-store are too similar for my taste. The online version should be richer. In-store you can experience the product through touch and feel — through sampling. Online all you have is video. I’m thinking virtual reality will alter this in the next couple of years and I can’t wait.  Buckle the seatbelts of your self-driving cars.

Thoughts? Peace.




Rootable Proof.


Great journalists can write a story about a person and make you root for them. The short TV vignettes produced for the Olympics about athletes you never heard of is a great example of the craft. When a cauliflower eared, over-muscled Syrian weightlifter can be turned into a “rooted for” softy you have created the right back story. The parts of the back story that make you root for the athlete are the realities of hardship, underdog-ness, and courage. Not platitudes, proofs.    

This is a craft people in the ad biz don’t get. Ads are created using an opposite strategy. Rather than find a rootable quality for a product or service, we trot out its riches. “Best this, first that, only this.…”

At What’s The Idea? the brand strategy framework identifies “a claim and 3 proof planks” for a brand. This organizing principle — developed to build a simple array of memorable values that influence preference – focuses on rational and emotional proofs.

(Rootable proofs are often conveyed in story form. This is where the power of storytelling lies in branding and advertising.)




Dangerous Marketers. The Bad Kind.


When a latent adult working at McCann-Erickson NY, I was lieutenant in charge of all the AT&T data products. These were the data lines, the network software services and whatever other B2B things that were not particularly sexy — during a very competitive time when phone companies were spending like drunken sailors. My services eventually became the internet so I had a grand time. And managed a great team.

Anyway, I had this idea that if ever the agency president (John Dooner) was asked to go to a meeting in Bridgewater NJ on some of these non-big sexy products (sorry Bartolo) he would need a primer. So the Fact Book was born. The idea was to put all the relevant facts into a binder that could be read in 60 minutes (on the way to the client), giving the reader a foundation of knowledge, e.g., overall market universe, market share, competition, product explanations, YOY sales trends and futures. I stole the idea from Marian Harper, a McCann and IPG CEO, from back in the 60s.

At What’s The Idea?, my current business, a key deliverable is the marketing plan. The first step in its development is a document called the 24 Question. It is much like the Fact Book. Anyone, at any company, in the marketing department should know the answers to the 24 Questions. They are the financial and marketing fundamentals of business. If you don’t know the answers as a marketer, you are a danger to the company.

If you are interested in seeing these questions, email me And we’ll talk.


PS. Go see Steve Jobs.


Brand eXperience.


X. Where Experience Meets Design is Brian Solis’s new book, one I suspect will be a big seller. Why? Because product and brand experience are critical customer care-abouts. Another reason? Advertising and marketing agencies can bill for it; it’s a business. Brand experience was a smart business the first time I ran into it at Megan Kent and David Kessler’s Starfish Brand Design. They were, and are, big fans of what Mr. Solis is now branding X.

Dare I say brand experience will become the pop marketing term of the 20 teens? Maybe not a whirlwind term such as “transparency” or “authenticity,” but it’ll be a thing. Bet on it.

That said, anyone can talk experience. Anyone can even build an experience. But for it to be meaningful and make deposits in the brand bank, it cannot be random. A brand experience needs to be on brand strategy – defined as an “organizing principle containing a claim and three support planks.”

Experience in brick and mortar and online are manageable, but certainly not easy. Without a brand strategy it will not only be messy — it may be counterproductive. Let’s see where Mr. Solis takes us. Off to order the book.


Wal-Mart Blasts Past Amazon…in 2027.


Fast forward 12 years to a time when Amazon is an online geezer and Wal-Mart is the young, hip tech retailer.  Am I tripping? Nope. How can it happen? Through strategy. Only through strategy.

What can Wal-Mart do to trump world-beater Amazon in online retail? First, it must look at customer care-abouts. Customers want fair prices. They want good value — products that will last. They want product accessibility: same day, same hour, delivered to any address. They’d like to be rewarded for loyalty. Predictive refills would be nice. Lastly, they’d love to remove some carbons from the earth’s footprint.

If Wal-Mart wants to out-Amazon Amazon, it needs to start thinking about these strategies. While Mr. Bezos is playing media mogul, cloud jockey and Steve Jobs, Wal-Mart should focus on the above care-abouts and blaze a new retail trail. Create a new retail equation.

The future is up for grabs. For everybody. Always has been.





The human mind does the work of the brand planner on a daily basis. We experience people, places and things, a multiplicity of experiences, and boil them down to their essence — retaining a fairly single minded impression. Or we don’t, because we are confused and no single quality sticks out. I refer to this inability to land on an impression as the “fruit cocktail effect.”

Great brand managers understand this. They get how the “cull” of product and service values is one of the most important parts of their job. They understand you can’t be all things to all people. Sadly, many marketers don’t get it. They “value-load” to the point where consumers don’t know what to think.

Yesterday I was reading a point of purchase display for a remodeling company and they listed 10 different values or claims.  All were good claims but created quite a cacophony. What about this display would the consumer remember in day after recall testing? Probably the main picture used.  If really lucky they might remember the value most important dear to them, buried among the others…their key care-about. Most likely they’ll remember fruit cocktail.



Brand Strategy Secret.


Not every product or service is perfect. Some have warts. Better alternatives are often available. So how do imperfect marketers move on? Well, they can and should try to improve the product; that said, Pepsi will never learn Coke’s secret formula. So what do they do?

When called in as a brand strategist in these imperfect product cases, I dive in looking for all that is good. My framework is about customer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.” When the two are aligned, we have a plan. When not we have work to do.

Have you ever walked past a person on the street with a magnetic sense of style? Attractive but not pretty or handsome? They are accentuating the positives. They’re not hiding unattractive qualities, they’re celebrating what they have. With panache. That’s what brand planners do. They find an organizing principle for product or service that is loveable and admirable. And they help find ways to celebrate it. Experience it.

As a child, I was not a fan of clams. My west coast uncle came to town and with a few slurps, some facial expressions and a excited description or two, changed my whole perception. His love came through.

This is how we do-oo it!




Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Brand Idea.


The new brand strategy for Memorial Sloan Kettering is “More Science. Less Fear.” I’ve written before that more science would be a fine claim (with less fear a good support plank), but my problem with the MSKCC advertising is it rarely uses proof to support its claim. They rarely do ads that show or explain “more science.” As with most marketers they make the claim, sing the claim, storify the claim, but don’t prove it. Wasted Benjamins.

This weekend’s MSKCC ad started out like it was going to provide proof. “When Suzanne wanted a baby after cervical cancer, science delivered” was the ad headline. A tremor of excitement. Then I read the copy. Suzanne received chemo, radiation and surgery prior to having eggs preserved for surrogate gestation. Everything worked out well thankfully and it was a great story. But MORE science? I don’t think so.

Mount Sinai had an ad this weekend in which it explained how a bionic exoskeleton strapped to the leg of a trauma patient allowed him to walk again. There’s an example of more science.

Claim and proof. Peace.    



Full Frontal Selling. Meh.


Why are we so attracted to nudity? Is it a prurient interest? Are we sex crazed? I think not. It has to do with the fact that we’re always clothed. Others’ nudity is uncommon. It peaks our interest. It fascinates.

Advertising is the total opposite. Advertising leaves nothing to the imagination. Claim, claim, claim. No warts, wrinkles or negatives. In advertising nothing is really left to the imagination. Full frontal selling. Most of it, anyway.

A more powerful approach to ad creation would be to learn what stimulus you need to get someone to want your product or service. It’s the “feel something, do something” approach. Full frontal ads implore consumer to do something. They go straight to the do.  Good ads accomplish both.  “Feel and do” ads like Corona, showing wonderful beach imagery, use both steps.

Don’t tell consumers what to do…make them ready to do. Create an environment where they want to see more, experience more. Tease consumers into purchasing.