Monthly Archives: April 2020

What Marketers Should Do While On Covid 19 Break?


If you are like me, you have dialed back your marketing activity during the Coronavirus pandemic. It could be that you are shut down in a nonessential retail setting or are just leery of being with others to protect the health you and your family.

So, while home or throttled back in your marketing activities, what are you actually doing? Banking and finances are, I’m sure, first order undertakings. Secondly, there’s venting. “How are we in this mess?” “How did we not plan for this?” Perhaps you are looking at the 5 stages of grief (banking isn’t among them) and are dealing with denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I suggest adding brand planning to the mix. Brand planning is the process by which we get to a brand strategy — defined as an “organizing principle of product, experience and messaging.” No business person wants disorganization. Not one.

Most companies know their marketing is unorganized, but they think that’s how it is supposed to be. They would never use the word disorganized.

Brand strategy is a way to add organization to the work of marketing. It requires a framework that drives toward objectives. If you’d like to call them KPIs we can. In between the objectives and the unorganized work, is strategy. Marketing strategy is tactical. Brand strategy is value-based. Values that cultivate what consumers care about. Values that actually build sales and brands.

Brand strategy directs tactics. It makes things organized.

If you are sitting around grieving your business or marketing plight and care to get organized, write me at and let’s look at some samples together. Examples are better than theory. Use this time to organize.



Google Announces a Poorly Chosen Brand Name.


Google Meet, a multipoint videoconferencing service available to paid Google Suite customers, announced today it will become a free service as early as next week. Zoom, which is killing it as a business and consumer videoconferencing tool, has had some security problems of late and Google Meet is hoping to capitalize.

Google Hangouts still exists though Meet will support up to 100 participants (for free) and offer lots of bells and whistles unavailable to Hangout users.

Hangout was a nice brand name. Paired with master brand Google, it offered a great Is-Does. Meet offers a great Is-Does but doesn’t verb well. Zoom has become a de facto videoconferencing verb – “Want to do a Zoom later today?” Verbing is a key in branding.

Google had an opportunity to verb-alize this brand name, but chose a redundant and too generic option. If one asks you to participate in a Google Meet that will make sense but we know people like to shortcut and drop master brands and that will make the name confusing.

I love a good Is-Does, especially for younger less established companies. Google is neither and could have pushed the name a little further. And, of course, there’s something to be said for a little originality. Google missed a big opportunity here.



God Is In The Detail.


“Nothing matches the holiness and fascination of accurate and intricate detail.”   Stephen Jay Gould

Great historical fiction pays attention to cultural and environmental detail. I eat that stuff up. It fires the synapses and slaps me awake — learning about different era’s behaviors and adaptations to environs. As a yout (youth), I flexed my creative muscles writing fiction by making up things. It was fun.

Today, I counsel marketers on brand strategy…which is mainly brought to life in the form of content. Sadly, much content today is delivered at the hands of copywriters unattached to the products they’re selling. They are attached to words and grammar, maybe even selling poesy, but it’s rare to find one more than a few inches down in the dirt when it comes to product and service detail. Therefore, their words ring flat. Think writing a historical Roman novel from your Brooklyn condo with sirens and horns blaring outside.

Details, intricate details, are what get attention. Details reinforced truth. They convince. If the word “authenticity” weren’t so over-used in branding today, I’d say details deliver authenticity.

Storytelling is a pop marketing tool today; but stories are only as good as the details they bring to life. My brand strategy framework is all about claim and proof. Detail your proof, me droogies. God is in the detail.



Teaching and Learning.


Those who follow the What’s The idea? blog know how I view education. Having worked at a K12 Ed Tech company I realized there is a big difference between “teaching” and “learning.” One is the means, the other the end. After scores and scores of teacher interviews, I understood there can be poor teaching, but no poor learning. Learning is always positive.

So, I took that learning to heart and incorporated it into my business model. Consumers are more apt to favor a brand they learn from than a brand that sells them. Great marketing helps consumers learn about brand value in other words. Learning they can articulate themselves and, perhaps, even conclude.

So just as learning is a touchstone for consumers in terms of product preference, it should be so for marketers. A new question I’ve decided to use in brand discovery with marketing stakeholders is “Tell me something you still need to learn about your business or consumers?” Implied with the question is that this learning will help business.

There’s another learning question in my brand discovery battery but it’s slightly different. Not to give away too many secrets — but we are in the middle of a pandemic. The question is “Walk me through your education at the company. What was your top “aha” learning moment?”

Okay enough learning for the day.



Is-Does and Claim and Proof.


Claim and proof may be my biggest contribution to the brand planning world. But first a story about another planning tool meme: the Is-Does. I was sitting in a parlor in Brooklyn many years ago with a number of stakeholders and volunteers for Bailey’s Café a community organization designed help Bed-Stuy students. We were all there to talk about building momentum. No one knew where to start the conversation so enter the planner. “Let’s go around the room and answer these two questions,” I suggested, “What Is Bailey’s Care? and What Does Bailey’s Café Do?” And we were off. Always the get Is-Does right. Back to claim and proof.

Claim and Proof.
I’m currently working with a local small business trying to punch up a flagging business hurt by the coronavirus. We’re looking to use social media, unpaid media, to generate some activity and business without spending money. After zeroing in on a part of the business that seems most fertile and the quickest to triage and I asked the business owner to send me some copy points about the products. As with most marketers, I received a list of claims. Claims are the oxygen marketing runs on today. But they’re a dime a dozen. Unsupported claims riddle the airways and byways of the advertising landscape. We’re drowning in claims. So we spent our time turning those claims to proofs. Evidence. Demonstrations. The things that make claims real.

Proofs build brands. And not random proofs. Organized, disciplined proof. Your claim directs the organizing principle but the proof gives it substance.







The saying “What’s the worst that could happen?” is often said by people up against modest problems. You never hear families dealing with cancer say this. You never hear the question posed to someone on the brink of financial ruin. Or generals on the battlefield. It’s said by everyday people with first world problems.

Well, welcome to the coronavirus world. This once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic has eviscerated daily life and commerce in ways rational people never expected. It has created heroes out of ne’er-do wells. It has exposed leaders as pleaders. It has turned preening entrepreneurs to sand.

We are so much more than money. We are Americans. Born of grit. And comity. Our heritage is as pioneers, not bougie idlers and finger pointers. We are scientists and helpers. At our best we are selfless and empathetic.

In the business world and in life, those who come out of this crisis alive, or in many cases dead, as “givers” rather than “takers,” will set the table for the future. Money is not the litmus of success, humanity is. And sometimes humanity means making difficult decisions. But for the good of the tribe.

As one of my heroes Eddie Vedder likes to say “I am a patriot.” Patriots will win out when this is over. Not those political nabobs or sign swinging, USA chanting folks. I’m talking about Americans who actually helped their way out of a crisis. With no agenda other than lifting up a brother and a sister.

That’s patriotism.




Brand Prepping During Covid19.


What’s The Idea? has created brand strategies for scores of companies. Some huge, some small. These strategies, organizing principles for product, experience and messaging, are built upon the things consumers most want from a brand (care-abouts) and things at which the brand excels (good-ats). Brand strategy inspires marketing, business ideas, and in the case of Covid19, business responses and tactics.

Having a strategy in place when you get socked in the jaw from a business standpoint makes you a bit of a prepper. You don’t have to refigure out everything while wobbling. You may not be able to offer your product or service as before but you can still create value for your customers and company, while keeping busy.

The last thing a business owner needs to be doing while dazed from a business discontinuity or business obstruction is rethinking business strategy or sitting on the sidelines watching.

I think about all my clients and their strategies and know they are not lacking for responses to the Coronavirus pandemic. Things will be different, tactics and business will be different, but the strategy remains the same. And there is productive comfort in that.



It’s All About the Questions.


Obesity is an epidemic in the U.S. For an assignment I once asked the head nutritionist at a leading grocery store chain how she would approach solving the obesity problem if named the US Secretary of Health and Human Services and given an unlimited budget. Her answer: “I would go door-to-door to every house in America and educate each family about healthy eating.”

It was a cool question.

When doing brand discovery, consumers and seller questions are used to uncover the gems. On the seller side, for me, many of the questions remain the same. The seller’s answers always take me down new turns and avenues, but the battery is pretty much static. But it’s when talking to consumers that the brand planner has to be crafty. Because interviewing mothers with toddlers about potty training is not like interviewing a morbidly obese mom about weight loss. You have to move the cheese.

In order to ask good questions, you need to understand the consumer care-abouts. Not just rationally, but emotionally. And the deeper you go, the more fertile the information. Deeply personal questions are the toughest. Obesity, erectile disfunction, beauty are all hard topics to discuss. That said, which brand of screwdriver to use is also hard to breach meaningfully. It’s too shallow. Both take some thought and preparation. The good news is, a meaningful, caring and sharing conversation can set the direction. Tell a story to get a story often works.

It’s all about the questions people. If you have a good ear you can ask a good question. Good questions are the touchstone of the successful brand planner.




The Boil-down.



When thinking about the key skill in brand planning I’d have to say the “boil-down” is most precious. What is the boil-down? Well, think of a big stock pot on the stove. Filled with liquid and other flavoring goodies. After hours of a rolling boil – bones, veggies, herbs and seasoning bobbing around in a pot – what’s left is a thick and flavorful broth or bouillon. Gently boil that some more and it will make the flavors even richer. That’s what brand planners do in order to make a nice strategy.

Of course, the filters the boil-down must pass through include all the things planners write about: category insights, consumers care-abouts, brand good-ats, culture, retail environment, competition, etc.  And mastery over all theses things makes for a good planner but without the ability to boil everything down and focus on the most important, business-building, brand-building qualities is for naught.

The data can’t do this work. The algorithm can’t do this work. AI? Don’t think so. It’s the brain. It’s the ability to feel and emote. When the body goes atingle, that’s when you know the boil-down is nigh.



Design. Brand Strategy. And Metrics.


I guess you can call a brand strategist a designer. Albeit one whose job does not include art outputs. Say the word designer and art director comes to mind. Logo creators. Environment designers. Certainly not someone who writes briefs, turned into documents, intended to drive marketing strategy. But give a designer an assignment without a brief and they’re left to their own devices as to what to create. Staring at a white piece of paper or screen doesn’t scare a designer. It’s freeing. But without a strategic goal, who decides if the work is good? Who decides if the work if business-building. The most common metric for design success is “likeability.” A distance second might be “communication value.” The holy grail, on the other hand, is brand claim and proof planks – the result of brand strategy.

Brand strategy in more cases than not offers marketers a qualitative metric; the client approves the logic, understands how it will help build business, but then gets lost in the weeds of approving deliverables/contents. Done right brand strategy should have quantitative metrics. It’s rare. And it’s a shame.

Return On Brand Strategy, as illusive a concept as it is, drives business at What’s The Idea? For a chat about brand strategy metrics, hit me at Steve@WhatsTheIdea. And be prepared to put on your seatbelt.