Monthly Archives: April 2018

Three Dots.


No, not Amazon Dots.  Dots or periods in taglines.  You’ve seen them. Three word taglines all separated by dots.  Wrangler did it a while back with “Real. Comfortable. Jeans.”  Many others have done it.  The reason they don’t come to mind easily is because it’s a poor, lazy branding tactic. The What’s The Idea? brand framework includes three proof plank – three supports for the brand claim – so I’m not against the notion of 3 strategic measures. What I am against is 3 measures or values in a tagline. It’s a hot mess.

I’m just back from MerleFest, a wonderful annual gathering of bluegrass and American roots music. MerleFest has one of the strongest, most iconic logos in the business.  Someone, however, has decided to pair the logo with the tagline “Music. Moments. Memories.”  Oy.  What does it mean? I’ll tell you what it means – everything. And therefore nothing. The brain can’t process all that; alliteration or not.

So if you are with an ad agency that comes up with a 3 word ad line that wants to be a tagline, don’t do it. Good brand shops wouldn’t make this mistake. It’s poor brand craft.





There’s a smart business development company by the name of Lead Forensics who recently did a demo for me. I had been through the demo a couple of years ago, but they are persistent marketers and I love persistence.  Lead Forensics does a reverse lookup on visitors to one’s website and marries that to a database of contacts, emails, corporate address and tel. numbers so you can attempt to find them.  

My demo person was friendly, convivial and understood her product quite well. She tried to understand me – using the initial contact, an unexpected contact before the demo results, and the demo itself — but didn’t quite get my brand. My biz/dev MO is very passive. I’d never start an email (never a phone call) with, “I see someone from your company has been to my website.”  When I cold-email someone, I do so with a nugget of value in it. Something very specific about the company, a competitor, or the market. It’s never about me.  

When prospecting, always try to understand your contact’s brand, motivation and operating culture. Lead Forensics is a good prospecting product. And it may work for some of my future clients, so the demo was not without value. But every customer is different.  And when selling, the seller needs to view them as such.




Memes in Politics.


In one of Hilary Clinton’s campaign speeches on the topic of “playing the women card’ she uses a meme-able statement “Deal Me In.”  She liked it so much she used it repeatedly in her Democratic National Convention speech. In context, it was a wonderful, powerful sentiment. It became a campaign theme and meme.  

A member of the Hillary brand police should have had the foresight, however, to quash that little ditty. If you are looking at Hillary negatives, you’ll note that deals are not the best part of her legacy.  And deals in which she and Bill were dealt in on were the grist for books, opinion pieces and TV investigation shows. Being inside, was also not a personal strength.

Giving traction to the meme was a mistake. It had more ballast than “I’m with her” but offered byproduct negatives that needn’t have been raised.  Words matter. When creating memes for politics, choose carefully.


Social Media Ain’t No Disco.


Social Media is a great tactic for marketers. But how great is yet to be determined. There’s a famous quote from John Wannamaker who once said, and I paraphrase, “I know half of my advertising is working, problem is, I’m not sure which half.”  If retailer extraordinaire Wannamaker says only half his advertising is working, what might a modern retailer say about social media? Twenty percent? Thirty percent?

The reason social is such a force in marketing today is it’s cheap. Advertising is expensive. PR is expensive. Anyone with and internet connect and fingers can blog, Tweet, post a picture and spit out marketing rhymes on the web.

I knew social and online advertising were in trouble 10 years ago when agency people started saying “Online is also good for branding, not just clicks and transactions.”

When I’m writing a marketing plan for a small company, I go heavy-in with social and search. Done well, done with good consumer intelligence and smart creative, social can build traffic. But traffic blips are not always sustainable. Build on your blips with some traditional advertising, promotion, PR and CRM you have a better chance to build a brand.





The Poor State of Digital Creative.


The hottest advertising topic of the day is digital ad privacy. Mark Zuckerberg brought his suit to Washington last week to answer questions about privacy before Congress and now those interested understand they can turn privacy settings on. Where and how to do it may be a bit of a slog, but at least they know.

Privacy and data analytics are important. Ish. Errant misuse of that data for illegal means is a matter for the law.  That is important. But that’s not advertising.

For ad girls and guys, what’s more important to the business is the state of digital creative. It’s horrendous.  The worst form of offline ad craft I refer to as “We’re Here” advertising; basically, it tells consumers what you sell and where to buy. The worst form of digital advertising is “Click Here” advertising; it does the same thing but with less effort.  The digital ad footprint is expanding in terms of pixels and load but the real estate is still small. Therefore, the creative is ghostly poor. It’s hard to even characterize as creative. Congress should call Bob Greenberg to the mic and ask about that.

Poor digital creative is doing more to hurt the ad business than cookies, opt-outs and database junkies ever will.

Make privacy settings easier to access. Put bad guys behind bars. And fix the damn digital creative.



Brand Strategy Alignment.


When I ask new clients “What is your product strategy?” I get a funny look. Typically, they respond with something like “Make the best possible product, meet the specific needs of the customer, and provide it with a level of service the exceeds their expectation.” Or some such goulash.

Even service companies will use similar words.

Once that gibberish is out of the way, I dig down deep on product (or service) — past the derma to the muscle, the circulatory system and bone. I’m looking for tangibility. What makes your beer taste different? And don’t say the natural ingredients. We always get there, but it takes time. There is always a leverageable differentiator…or four.   

Once the client and I agree on a product strategy, it’s time to ask about the experience strategy. And finally the messaging strategy. Some teeth-pulling may be required to get actual answers, but it’s necessary. When all three strategies are on the table we look to see if there is alignment.

Once misalignment is acknowledged, work can begin. Organization can begin. Brand strategy can begin.



Brand is Everything.


Kylie Jenner’s makeup sold $420 million in 18 months with minimal advertising beyond her Instagram posts. Her lip kits and eyeshadow palettes, at one point, retailed for $27 and $42 respectively. At a street fair on Long Island teen girls were falling over themselves to buy the stuff. The police showed up after a while, arrested some entrepreneurial boys hawking the cosmetics, all of which turned out to all be fake. The teens didn’t seem to care.

Kylie got some game. Kylie has a brand. Just ask my SnapChat stock, which lost mega value when she dinged the platform after it updated the interface.

If you are not Kylie Jenner and there is not pent up demand for anything and everything you touch, you need a brand strategy. In fact, in 15 years when Kylie isn’t hot (commercially), she may rue the fact she didn’t establish an organizing principle for her brand. Kids!

Creating brands out of people is hard. Creating brands for companies and products is easy. Claim and proof is the fasted, most enduring way.
If you are interested in some success stories and examples, write




“According to several studies, showing or simply feeling gratitude has mental health benefits, including promoting a happy frame of mind.”  

The New York Times, Of Interest column, 4/12/2018.

As I think about all the brand strategies I’ve written, I’m hard pressed to come up with a claim and proof array that ties to gratitude. For most brands, gratitude is a tactic used when business is exceptionally good or, conversely, when a market mistake occurs.  Brands, traditionally, don’t do gratitude well.

Some brands, offer to donate a portion of sales to a cause to show consumer concern.  It’s a tactic. Patagonia is cause-based brand, bless their hearts, but not necessarily a gratitude-based brand. When Amazon created Prime, allowing consumers free shipping for one low price, that’s gratitude, but a tactic. When Costco takes back product with nary a question, it’s gratitude. Again, I believe it’s a marketing tactic not a brand plank. That said, I promise to dig a little deeper.  I the meantime, brand owners and brand planners, as my Norwegian aunt might have said “Tink about gratitude in your brand strategies.”



Ring Around The Agency.


Mark Pritchard, Proctor & Gamble’s CMO has asked Publicis, WPP and Omnicom to create a hybrid consumer agency to service a portion of his North American business. The collaboration, he hopes, will yield better creative and better economics. (Insert silent giggle here.) When the boss asks for something and is willing to pay for something, you do it. Mr. Pritchard is the boss and the biggest ad spender in the neighborhood.

As proof of concept, he points to the wonderful anti-advertising Tide Detergent campaign aired during the last Super Bowl. But there’s a massive problem with the logic. Ad people are very ethnocentric. Very egocentric. Did I mention competitive? Especially creative people.  Leonardo da Vinci let some talented interns mix the paints and sketch on some canvases, but he wasn’t collaborating.

Every time someone trots out this hybrid agency idea or the idea to have a totally dedicated brand shop, it’s failed.  As Faris says, “ideas are recombinant.” Egos aren’t.

This dedicated agency model may save money, it may make a couple of goods ads, but it won’t attract the best people and certainly won’t foster the best creative. Ring around the agency.




Fresh Versus Stale Branding.


If you watch sound bites on the news you know president Trump repeats himself for emphasis. Repeats himself for emphasis. To me it a function of being inarticulate and/or not knowing the facts, but it could be also a nervous thing. A nervous thing.

Repetition is a time-tested advertising strategy. The more you say something, the more people are likely to remember it. It’s boring but effective. In advertising.

Repetition is effective in branding, as well. But it should never be boring. It’s okay in a brand jingle, but you don’t want to burn people out on your branding message. There’s only so much repetition a person can take. When your brand strategy is composed of a claim and three proof planks, you never need to be repetitive. Reimagining how to convey your claim with unique compelling proofs is the fun of branding. It’s also the job of the ad agency and your creative people. Keeping it fresh.

Logos and jingles are best kept long term. Otherwise keep the message and story fresh. No one wants a stale product, no one wants a stale message.