Monthly Archives: December 2018

Cleaning My Memes


I write frequently about Care-abouts and Good-ats, two fundamentals of my brand strategy practice. (Type the words into this blog search bar for more info.)  I’ve been working hard to create web memes out of the phrases but realize the bouncing these words around the ether is a little inside baseball. Even when I share them with brand people.

Care-abouts is actually shorthand for Consumer Care-abouts. And Good-ats refers to Brand Good-ats. Without those qualifying words the meanings are diluted. Or worse.  If Care-abouts are misunderstood to mean brand care-abouts, that’s certainly not good at all.  What brands cares about is making money. Making margin. Gaining share. Branding works best when it focused on consumer needs.  As for Good-ats, they are meant to refer to what a brand is good at. If construed as what the consumer is good at, that suggests a pandering brand strategy – one that blows smoke. Never a good idea.

Hence forth, I’ll be using the full terms of art: Consumer Care-abouts and Brand Good-ats. To do otherwise might sound nice, but confuse.




Brand Strategy for Complex Businesses.


I worked on an assignment recently where a tech company came back to me 3 years after having me develop their initial brand strategy. A strategy they loved.  It was for a complex business, which in three years’ time grew even more complicated. The service offerings got broader – and they entered into a white-hot new tech sector.  A sector with mixed reviews as to its viability, albeit one boasting tons of VC money.

The CEO wondered if a reposition was in order. As someone who always tries to future-proof his brand strategies, I was a tad reluctant but willing to give it a try.

Fast forward a few weeks, a couple of dozen interviews, some financials and a bevy of care-abouts and good-ats and the new brand strategy was complete. It changed. The brand claim evolved, broadening the scope of the business. It was a modest but significant change.  The proof planks stayed the same, though slightly nuanced.  

The way to handle complex problems in branding is to render them not complex. Once you remove most complications, once you figure out the most important business and attitude drivers, you can lay down the track.



Content Creation Advice-ory.


Nicholas Kristof wrote today about his biggest Op-Ed flops of the year.  Columns people started reading then left before completion. Readers and consumers are fickle when it comes to things that hold their interest. They move on.  The job of content creators is to capture the interest and imagination of readers.  It’s the litmus of good communications.

Though marketing communications professionals, especially their ad agents, understand this, they are not so good at it. Why? Because they are selling.  They are asked to load the content up with product features and benefits and, perhaps, festoon it with a pretty bow to keep interest high.  It’s not easy.

The web, much like the yellow pages of yore, is a utility in some regards. It’s brings buyer and seller together by way of search. So online ads and content don’t need to be so hot either. And they aren’t.

Nick Kristoff writes about important things. He’s not going to change his topics, though he can learn from them. He can perfect his craft to keep readers on the page. He’s a content creating sponge. And so must be marketers.  Every word is important. Let’s light up those amygdalas.



All Claim, No Proof.


Marketing communications is 80 claim and 20 percent proof. Read a print ad. Watch a TV commercial. Listen to a radio spot. The lion’s share of the communication tells consumers what the seller wants them to believe. If you just learned the claims by rote the marketer would be happy. The reason to believe the claims — or the logic — is often absent. Maybe a crumb here and there. Hence, consumers lack the ability to explain the claim. All claim, no proof.

By some accounts North Shore University Hospital is the best hospital on Long Island, a large land mass next to NYC with 3.5 million residents.  Many believe the best hospital claim. Ask them why it’s the best and they are likely tongue-tied. Umm. Well. Because.

Branding is about Claim and Proof. Find a claim consumers truly want and need. Then find proof of that claim and promote it every day.  If you do so in an organized way – with three proof planks – you will succeed faster.

When Coors Light spends millions on TV advertising telling young adults it offers the coldest beer on the market (claim), how do they prove it? With a picture of the Rockies? It’s a Trumpian claim. It’s foolish and silly. But they still claim it.  

Branding is about conviction. It’s about evidence.

Get your paper strategy right and every arrow in the marketing quiver shoots toward the target.



Advertising is not a task for the lazy.


Google ran an ad today in The New York Times using an age-old communication device, listing a number of great user-benefits for which people use the service — a nicely bracketed list of searches Google has allowed us over the years. All true. All fairly amazing, were it not for the fact that we’ve been using Google now for 15-20 years.  In a sense it’s what I call “We’re here” advertising – not much more than a simple logo on a page, conveying no new information. A billboard reminder, if you will.

Advertising that doesn’t engage a reader with something new, something learned, something blue (sexy), is merely “We’re here” advertising. Repetition and/or frequency is a foundational tool for brand building the old school saying goes. According to the logic, consumers won’t remember your message until they see it a minimum of three times. Not a fan. It worked before we were saturated with ads. Not today.

If the messaging is compelling, if it teaches, if it stimulates – it’s off to a good start.  Then it needs to make you do something. Act. And lastly, it must make a deposit in the brand bank. Alter your attitude in a way that predisposes you to purchase the next time — for reasons brand managers decide. Advertising is not a ask for the lazy.




Obs and Strats



Everything we do in marketing has to support objectives and strategies (obs and strats).  Similarly, everything we do in the brand building needs to support brand strategy. A well-designed brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks) is inexorably linked to obs and strats; therefore brand strategy is measurable.

So how does one measure brand strategy?

The easy answer is to conduct periodic quantitative studies of attitudes and then marry that attitude data against key performance indicators, such as sales, transactions, utilization — things that generate revenue.

Unlike ROI which maps, say, an ad spent to income generated, Return On Strategy (ROS) measures attitude swings against revenue.  That’s why brand claim and the proof planks must be embedded in obs and strats.

Tink about it as my Norwegian aunt used to say.



Mistrust of Google? Huh?


The level of hypocrisy at the House Judiciary Committee’s grilling of Google CEO Sundar Pichai yesterday was amazing. Committee members and staffers probably use Google in their day jobs, 100 times a day.  These men and women, who accept funds from any and every influencer group in the country (both sides of the aisle) have the audacity to ask Mr. Pichai, about selling a little date to fund a free tool the size and scope of Google is preposterous!

Of course Google will push the boundaries. It would be unAmerican not to. But to bandy about the word of “distrust” and “mistrust” for a digital utility that is trusted more than any other on the planet is ludicrous.  America loves it’s Google. Billions of times a day.

When embarrassed by the probes concerning public trust does Google publicly threaten to shut down its engine?  No. It listens, answers logically, unemotionally and learns.

Now, where should I send my donation to your campaign Mr. McCarthy, house majority leader?  As if.



Why Brand Strategy?


The brandstrategy framework used at What’s The Idea? is not an impenetrable membrane.  That is to say, it is not a wall that keeps out creative ideas and marketing executions. Sure, there may be some brand policing by brand manager, but brand strategy is not meant to create “the land of no.”  Think of brand strategy as a springboard for creative ideas. A place to start.

The What’s The Idea? framework comprises one claim and three proof planks.  A claim is a statement of value to a consumer; something they want. The stronger the want or need, the better the claim. As for the proof planks, they are exactly that. Proofs of claim. Proof planks are the foundation of brand stories. They create muscle memory for consumers as to why the claim is true.

The claim and proof array open the doors to creative thought, it doesn’t  close it. This is not untamed creative thought or “creative for creative’s sake,” but ideation based upon an organized selling strategy that builds brands.

Brand strategy organizes the creative mind.




Learning Through Failure.


The first step in brand strategy is getting the product Is-Does right.  They ability to articulate what a product Is and what the product Does sounds easy, but it’s not.  I developed this simple concept while working at a tech startup where the product was a software as a service (SaaS) called Zude. Because the management team couldn’t get the Is-Does right, we failed.  

The term of art “elevator speech” is the result of an improper Is-Does.  If it takes an elevator ride to explain your product, you are little toasty.  iPhone was a phone, albeit a very functional phone.  If it was called a Newton (hee hee) it may not have survived.

Zude’s Is-Does was “the fastest easiest way to build (and manage) a website. The Is was “website builder” the Does was “fastest easiest.”  But the management team could not completely agree. The technologist, who understood code and features but not consumers, kept building until Zude was part video platform, part social network, part advertising company…you get the picture.

Get the Is-Does right and there may be an Is to build a brand around.