Monthly Archives: January 2019

Educating A Market. Tread lightly.


Two fundamentals of marketing are supply and demand.  If you don’ have a handle on these factors you are not doing your job.  I’ve spent a business lifetime trying to work in categories with “pent-up demand.”

When there is no demand, the marketer’s job is to create it. That starts with a good product. And it ends with the ability to educate the market as to the value of the good product. Education is expensive.  Many moons ago AT&T had an 800 service with a formidable competitor, MCI.  MCI had a price advantage. AT&T had a technology advantage.  AT&T’s calls connected faster. Seconds faster. That might not seem like a big deal but to businesses doing millions of calls a day, it added up.  However, no one knew there was a problem.

AT&T had to educate America about the problem, then provide the solution. That educational cost; I’m guessing took about $20-30 million. Tough road, but it paid for itself.

The moral is, if there is no demand you have to incite it. AT&T had the money.

Virality being what it is today, many start-ups think the social web is all they’ll need to educate a market about a product’s value. Don’t count on it. Those stories are few and far between.



Buzz Words in Marketing.


Marketers love buzz words. Here are a few ripped from the pages of today’s business journals: change management, design thinking, business development, disruption, innovation, and transformation programs.  Google these bitches and you will end up immersed in business-babble. Immersed in the writings of consultants, sales people, content jockeys and entrepreneurs.

Here’s what I know. 

These buzzwords are all tactics.  Innovation may feel like a strategy, but it isn’t until you actually have an innovation…a thing. Mostly these words are used to describe processes, promises of ways to make things better in the marketplace.  Can’t fault people for that. But as a brand strategist, whose job is also to make business better – to “sell more things to more people more times at higher process” (Sergio Zyman), I begin with a foundational brand strategy. One that governs and effects value and perceived value. With that in place, you can design think, change manage, develop business, disrupt, innovate and transform until your heart’s content. And do so in an organized way. With intent.





When writing brand strategy there comes a point at which you need to profess yourself expert in the topic or category.  No matter our age, we are always young and inexperienced somewhere. Today I was wondering what it would be like to be a young tech executive attending Davos. Would s/he feel comfortable? I would hope not. Were I to go to Davos, I’d be a church mouse. Maybe an occasional chirp about branding but otherwise it would be all listen and learn. For a year or two.

That’s how I approach a new category.  Listen and learn.  Like Mr. Miyagi’s grasshopper.  When talking to doctors or security analysts, coders or block chain wonks, before putting finger to keyboard comfort with the topic is absolutely critical. Sometimes it requires learn a new language. Until that language flows conversationally, without awkwardness, you’d better not start your brief.

Maybe this is where the overuse of the word “authentic” comes from. If you don’t know of what you speak, if you are not comfortable, it shows.  In NY we used to call this “speaking out your ass.”  Comfort with content begets strategy. Everything else is copy.




Love. It’s what makes branding planning brand planning.


Subaru has a long-standing tagline: Love. It’s what makes Subaru a Subaru.  Though I understand “love” and know what a “Subaru” is, I have no clue what this tagline means.  If given a guess, I’d say Subaru manufacturers lover their product so much it makes the car better. Of course, it could mean consumers love the brand so much it makes the product better — but that doesn’t make sense. Advertising.

That’s an aside, my real point has to do with brand planning process.  David Brooks waxes philosophical in his Op-Ed piece today about two philosophies of life. One favors loyalty and community — giving of oneself for the betterment of the whole — and the other suggests tolerance of others and their points of view, yet being true to self.

Brand planning, done right, is more like the former – the community betterment approach.  Brand planners should be constantly on the look out for the love. The good. Negatives need not apply. Therefore the word tolerance need not come up. Brand planning is about positivity.

I understand competition. I understand “Who is going to lose the sale you are making.” That’s for advertising and tactical efforts.  Branding is about the love. What the brand is good at (good-ats) and what consumers care about (care-abouts). Find the love.



The Commodity Promise.


The brand promise or in my lexicon “claim” is often a very common promise. The common or commodity promise is a blight on the branding world. Let’s look at healthcare or hospitals as an example – a place where doctors do medical procedures.  Docs and hospitals often share the promise “making patients well.”  If you were to wrangle all the healthcare promises in the country, 90% will be the same.  A commodity promise.

Getting past the commodity promise is hard work. And work not easily done by marketing staffers; it requires a specialist. A deep-digging brand planner.

A big hospital in the northeast had a marketing director who fancied himself a creative person. He decided he wanted the hospital tagline to be (and I will paraphrase a bit) “Your wellness means the world.”  Say it enough times in radio and TV ads and people might just believe it. That’s adverting not branding.

After having done some a little bit of discovery on the brand, I came up with a competing promise “Where every bed is precision.” It’s not a tagline, but a brand strategy.  With this as the claim, supported by three proof planks, the hospital would have had a brand strategy. See the difference? Not a commodity promise.




Are You Strategic?


What does it mean to be more strategic?  Does it mean more analytical? Smarter? Does it mean you flail around less looking for a solution? Are you more successful when strategic?

Once in my career at McCann-Erickson a supervisor told me I needed to be more strategic; it cut me to the bone.  But I wasn’t sure what to do to fix it. It was a swipe and advice sans solution.  I had to figure it out on my own. “Strategic” doesn’t come with a handbook.

It’s hard to be strategic without a strategy. Then you have something to abide. Something to affect. With a strategy in place you can measure your efforts. As I sometime write, you can be binary in your efforts. Either “on” or “off.”

The problem with branding, and therefore marketing, is that strategic people often don’t have a brand strategy. As a result they are strategic but with tactics. Or objectives. More money, more margin, more more. Unfortunately, they’re not building a brand. Not using “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” With branding the ends trump the means.




Things we remember.







We remember beauty.

We remember new.

 We remember rich.

 We remember melody.

We remember funny.  

We remember nature.

 We remember poetry.

 We remember pain.

 We remember educators.

 We remember warmth.

 We remember charity.

 We remember happy.

 We remember love.

 We remember triumph.

 These are the things we remember.

 These are the things consumers remember.

 (I post this brand planner’s prayer once a year…as a reminder.)

Brand Discovery Interviews.


Good brand strategy discovery is about asking questions and listening to the answers. I’d venture to say discovery is 90% listening. People like to share. They like to be helpful, so long as you have their interests in mind and care about what they have to say. To prove interested you have to build new questions off of their responses. And use a little bit of English (spin on the ball). Learn eagerly.

And to make the process is not too one-way and to prove your eagerness, you’ll need to tell some quick stories. Stories that show you are human, fragile and fun. But remember 90 of the interview is listening.  Even with this heavily weighted split, the interview must come off as a conversation. Be sensitive to the sensitivities. Sensing important insights is another key interview driver. But don’t get hung up or bogged down. They can be plumbed in after-interview analysis.  Also, it’s a good idea to share stories from others you’ve interviewed. People enjoy hearing from likeminds. It validates.

The discovery interview is the most important tool in brand planning — be it an interview with a consumer or brand stakeholder.

Interview notes are the puzzle pieces.



Adjectives R Us.



My alma mater Rollins College is a really neat school. A beautiful school.  But sometimes its beauty overshadows the academics, so someone smart came up with an idea for a YouTube video to downplay the former and highlight the latter. The video is nicely shot but the script is terribly weak.  Shame.

Once past the beauty shots and facilities recap, about a third of the video, I began counting marketing adjectives. And there were plenty. The same adjectives any school could and would use. In fact, the same adjectives any institution, company or even brand might use.  Adjectives R US.

There was a good provable “idea” hidden in the copy but it was glossed over. The notion that classes are small enough to mirror post-graduate work. Sorry to say it but the video proved nothing more than a pictorial sales piece. As it stands, the video strategy “more than just pretty” lay fallow and, sadly, uncultivated.



Asheville Design Salon.


I attended my first Asheville Design Salon last night and enjoyed it immensely. It was held at The Antidote, a cool cocktail bar (order the Daiquiri), attended by maybe 20-30 designers.  There was a very smart presentation on the development of new local spirits brand called Chemist Gin. The brand design was near impeccable: the bottle, mark, the typeface, coloration – very tight and well-knit. The second presentation was a bit broader, conducted by Big Bridge Design, showing some nice work in beer packaging plus some smart experiential thingies.

What I took away from the presentations — and yes to a hammer everything looks like a nail — was the fact that there is a lot of talk about brands but little discussion of brand strategy. Or brand briefs. The discovery and strategy, prior to stylus to tablet, was all conducted by the client and designer. No independent middle ground. No real paper strategy that I could tell.

What do they say about criminals being their own lawyers? (Okay, bad analogy.) And designers are geniuses at grabbing consumers by the eyeballs but neither client or designer really schooled in creating an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”

Can’t wait for my next Design Salon.