Monthly Archives: December 2019

Insight Beast.


Let’s face it, brand strategy is all about what Trout and Ries labelled positioning. Owning a place in the mind of the consumer that is of high value and defensible. I would add to that a place that is universally recognized as “you” – offering something you do really well and are constantly perfecting.

There are many flavors of brand planner just as there are many flavors of writer. We all have different slants on what we deliver.

Let’s just start by saying making a living selling an organizing principle, AKA a strategy, is hard. It’s easier selling logos, names and taglines. Logos, names and taglines, out of context though, are hard to sell so most branding shops spend time on the set up. What do I have to say to sell my money-making buildable? At What’s The Idea? there are no brand buildables just a paper strategy. A piece of paper using a framework of one claim and three proof planks. It is the framework that creates a position in the mind of consumers.

The way all brand planners get to strategy (the paper kind) is through insights. What one observation, both scientific and behavioral, can power the idea that is the brand claim? Of course there can be multiple insights, but only one can truly light up the (brand manager’s) amygdala. Like the hogs that smells the truffle, the Insight Beast is branding’s best friend. Insight Beasts build the world’s most powerful brands.

And no, the URL is not available.



CRM for the Restavus.


Customer Relationship Management (CRM) grew up in the aughts. It was a process by which customer data records were mined to maximize repeat sales. As an AT&T client once reckoned “take the data and do something smart with it.” CRM then grew from a process to a software, which extended to include management of sales prospects – making some serious B2B Benjamins.

But what about the rest of us?

I’ve been blogging since 2007 with over 2,600 posts, hundreds of thousands of clicks and social media impressions up the wah-zoo. But they aren’t stored anywhere. I’ve done noting smart with that data that doesn’t exist.

But who is positioned to help target prospects that are most inclined to buy? Who has that data? And who can help small and mid-size businesses do something smart with that data, i.e., create the catnip or bait?

Google Analytics arrays one’s web clicks, but due to privacy issues, it’s not that useful – not unless someone buys something. You can’t manage a customer relationship until someone buys something. But with AI the tools are there.

Google’s next big business idea, the one that will really hyper monetize the web, is to create a means by which businesses can identify prospects, not by zip, age, browser and search term, but by intent. Predictive intent. This is the mapping the data genome shit that will really alter the marketing landscape.

This, me droogies, is CRM for the Restavus.





Excellent Relationships.


I’ve read a number of ads for marketing directors over the years and one of my favorite job specs is:

Proven experience in building effective relationships (with internal and external customers).

I love this one. It makes a person ruminate. Everyone thinks they’re good at relationships. If we are all being honest with ourselves, though, we have to admit some bad interpersonal situations are just inevitable. You may be able to count on one hand the people you’ve been unable to deal effectively with but everyone must realize nobody is perfect. Not even Gandhi.

If you find yourself telling cohorts, prospects or hiring agents you get along with everyone, you’re putting up a red flag. Because even the most perfect manager can’t account for the disorganized personalities of some people. And/or our own imperfections.

The best way to build a case for getting along with everybody is to be truthful. Recognize it’s impossible. Explain we are all human, all fallible and 99.9 percent success is our goal. If we know we can’t be perfect all the time, it gives us the humility to strive.

All we can do is strive.




Unbridled Proof Needs to Be Organized.


My alma mater Rollins College recently posted a marketing video on YouTube. Set to violin music it is a visual listing of accomplishments over the course of the year. Lots of number 1 rankings followed by certain student honors, awards, social initiatives, celebrations of students past and a recap of campus investments and improvements. Had I done discovery on the brand I’m sure many of these things would have been circled as proofs. (I run an evidence-based brand planning shop.)

But what must happen with proof in brand strategy and marketing efforts is it needs to be organized. Rollins tried to organize it but the vid just came off as a sophomoric listicle. All attenuated at the end of the video with a line “Make Tomorrow Happen.”

Marketing videos are not an amalgam of randomized brush strokes, they’re an organized equation of value. Some might say a story. Something that creates a lasting and indelible memory.

Brand strategy is an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” The operative word is organized. Sans organization the proof is a marketing list. Sans proof, the marketing list becomes advertising.


The Brand Claim.








Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is credited with saying “Prose = words in their best order; Poetry = the best words in the best order.”

One of the nicest things ever said by a fellow brand planner about my work product was there was a sense of poesy about it. I like to think he was referring to my brand claims. Typically, they are brief. And they are always pregnant. A number of claims have ended up being taglines because to the ear they sounded memorable. I rather not label them creative. If they smack of a creative spin they clank when shared with a real creative team.

Landing on the best words in the best order is how you know you are done with a brand claim.

“Campaigns come and go…a powerful brand idea is indelible” is a phrase that best embodies brand strategy. And that powerful brand idea is the claim.

As a brand strategy consultant, I’m not in the business of creating ad campaigns. I’m in the business of directing creative conception. The brand claim is the best, most lucrative, most efficient means by which to create good marketing work and judge good marketing work. It is the single most important element of brand strategy.

The best words in the best order.


(For examples of What’s The Idea? brand claims, please write


Experiential Marketing.


Experiential branding is a thing. It’s a big thing. Any good K12 teacher will tell you that broadcasting a lesson at kids is not the best away to teach — let alone, sending them home with a few chapters to read. The best way to get kids to learn is to engage them with sight, sound and thought-provoking experience. In science they do experiments.

Brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. But the main drivers of brand strategy spending today seem to be naming, packaging and messaging. Experience, more often than not, a still a second class citizen.

Brand strategists doing discovery understand experience. It’s how we learn. Consume the product. Tag along with sales people. Observe consumers and users. Experience the experience. When Annie Proulx prepared to write The Shipping News, she spent weeks in diners drinking coffee and listening to the local patois of Newfoundlanders. It informed her analytical mind.

In a recent biz/dev email sent to experiential company I noted how experiential companies market their services using email and websites rather than experiential modes. Experiential is the sharpest tool in the branding kit. We need to pay it better mind.



The Bite Is Worse Than The Proof.


I was reading an article today about AWS, the cloud hosting service that contributes $25B to Amazon’s bottom line. It seems AWS is not being kind to some software startups in the cloud computing space, coopting and sometimes pirating software which they put into the AWS cloud as there own. The article, referred to his practice as strip-mining software, was appeared in today’s NYT.

One sound bite the Times chose to run from an Amazon spokesperson called the allegation “silly and off-base.” It so reminded me of the mind-numbing name-calling in the impeachment hearing.

Amazon needn’t provide the newspaper with blather or fodder that is meaningless and expected, it needs to jump straight to proof. Proof that they are not strip mining. Proof they are not repurposing other people’s software. And even if the Amazon spokesperson did provide some kernels of proof in the Amazon statement, they shouldn’t give the reporter a sound bite like “silly and off-base,” which will become the lead. It deflates the real argument. Lose the name calling and hit the proof.

We live in an age, exacerbated by social media, where the sound bite has become more important than the proof.



Segmentation and Branding.


There has been a lot of talk about segmentation the last 30 years and now more than ever with data only a few clicks away from every desktop. Segmentation studies yield customer clusters exhibiting similar consideration and purchase behaviors. They are often given fun names and offer message and sales channel tailoring to improve marketing effectiveness. My first pass at segmentation came while working on behalf of AT&T’s corporate business, where they identified 22 different types of large corporate buying behavior. A bit much.

In branding planning, where we develop upstream strategy to organize marketing activities, we lean the other way. Against segments. We want to be aware of all buying groups and motivations but we want to address them as one. Because there is only one brand, not 22.

That said, in some brand strategy cases I have targeted a segment that is a subset of all buyers. Because I felt it to be an aspirational segment. For instance, new moms on a budget may not be able to worry about the growing landfill, but it is something they aspire to. In that case I didn’t build the brand strategy for all new moms, but I certainly took them into account.

As a rule, it’s better not to segment your target in brand strategy. But business is business and the gas pedal is the gas pedal. 




Good News For Kids. A Food Revolution.


A former business acquaintance of mine recently joined a company called Revolution Foods. With a company name like that (brand) how could I not look it up. Thanks for the heads up LinkedIn. Above the fold on the website appears the following Is-Does:

Building lifelong healthy eaters with kid-inspired, chef-crafted™ food.

For newish companies, or companies with not a lot of brand awareness putting your Is-Does above the fold is smart. (This above the fold real estate is something I look at when using brand planning tool, Brand Strategy Tarot Cards.)

I’ve done a good deal of work in K12 education and it is truly some of the most important brand categories I’ve studied. Teaching kids how to learn better is foundational, offering life changing result. As I’ve said before there is no bad learning, only bad teaching. A small but impactful subset of proper K12 education is nutrition. The more we teach kids about proper and healthy eating, the more Greta Thunbergs we’ll turn out. Revolution Foods is banking on this approach. If they do it well, the company will help change the world.

It won’t be easy. But it’s definitely doable. In the 60s and before it didn’t take the greatest minds in marketing to sell sugary snacks. But there were some really smart people doing it. Santa Claus was co-opted by Coca-Cola in the ‘30s and altered consumption, let’s not forget. Teaching kids to eat green beans will be hard. But it’s not fly to the moon hard.

I commend Revolution Foods and will study them moving forward. This is a company worth everyone’s time. A real game changer.





Proof Well Told Part 2.


In an April post I wrote “To really understand truths you must uncovering proof.” And it is as valid today as it was earlier this year (hee hee.) Yesterday I shared the view that proof, or three proofs and a claim, undergird brand strategy at What’s The Idea?.

Tell a small business owner or multinational board chairman they must organize their product/service offering under one claim and three values and they will feel constrained. “What about the future?” “What if the market changes?” “What about competitors?” To them I say, stop itAmerica was built — the declaration of independence was built — upon “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I think we can build a brand on three values.

But the word values, especially in branding, is overused and under-supported. I prefer proof. Proof is foundational. Proof is building material. Proof makes brands tangible. I do discovery around values, but I mine the proof. When you’re talking about things tangible, you can be clear and concise. When you talk about values, it’s easy to be unspecific and verbose.

Proof well told is the key to building brands. Organize that proof and tether it the mother of all claims and you become nearly bulletproof.