Monthly Archives: October 2020

Turning Data Into Insights.


I’m a big data guy.  Especially today when so many are treating data and science like the plaque. “My data trumps your data.  My statistics are better than yours.” But data feeds objectives. And though objectives are the metrics by which we measure success in business, they are really paint by numbers sans strategy. And a chaotic paint by numbers at that. 

It’s okay to judge marketing activity using data reports. Drink cases sold. Percentage of beds filled at the hotel. Readmissions to the hospital for the same diagnosis. But without written, codified and adhered to strategies, what are you really measuring? And how can you monitor and affect change.

What’s The Idea? is in the strategy business. Make no mistake.  This branding practice is not in the tactics business. Not until the master brand strategy is developed and approved. I will not create a marketing plan without a brand strategy to drive it. Brand strategy is the driver of marketing.  Without a driver, a car is on autopilot. Without a driver a car is a machine. Without a driver a brand is a random tactics generator.

Insights are the fulcrum of data. Properly packaged and culled, insights are the fastest way to successful data.



Post-dispose. Is that even a word?


Years ago while working at McCann-Erickson NY, I was put on a task force to develop a white paper addressing the topic of “ad spending in support of emerging technologies.” The client was AT&T.  AT&T didn’t mind funding cash cow businesses like business long distance and 800 service but they weren’t really sharp on advertising for its $3B private line (data line) business. 

During my tenure on the task force I came across a bunch of documents from the 40s and 50s residing at the Center for Advertising Studies, a shared IPG unit serving all sister agencies.  Copy testing was one topic I looked into. In one doc there was a sentence that stuck with me and I still use it to this day: “Copy that predisposes consumers to purchase.”  It’s a nice turn of a phase meaning convince consumers to act. Presumably for the first time.  And isn’t that what advertising and marketing, even ecommerce is all about? So simple.

But what about loyalty? How to we post-dispose people to continue to keep purchasing? 

The answer is through brand strategy — a constant, drumbeat of value and reasoning that refreshes consumer preference.  Not to be confused with bludgeoning consumers, as does Geico. Branding is a foil for advertising frequency. It convinces across mediums. It’s more existential. It’s more active and participatory.

Branding predisposes and post-disposes consumers to act. Get you some!



Brand Planning Tools.


I was watching a couple of guys doing some residential construction recently and notice one was predrilling holes through a two by four while the second guy followed, drilling a longer hole through the wood into some concrete. One hole, two men, two drills.

It seemed like a duplication of effort that may have been corrected with one heavier duty, all-purpose drill. It made me wonder about tools and the construction industry.  And how many labor hours are lost to improper tools. This is not just a construction problem but an American work problem.

So it goes with brand planning too.

Are brand planners using the right tools to get to master brand strategy? Are they being efficient? Is the work product accurate? And when I say accurate I mean, does it truly predispose consumers to purchase?

All brand planners have tools. They have terms for their tools. They have processes. And presentation flowcharts. And briefs. But are they the right tools?  Are they meaningful?

Before you hire a brand planner, ask to see and have then discuss their tools. Have them take you through their process. Understand the logic of the tools. Don’t just assume the tools are effective.

One of may favorite interview questions, used to evaluate new hires, is “Tell me about some processes and practices you came up with at your last job to make things work better.” Tools.  Tools build brands.

Too see some brand planning tools uses at What’s The Idea?, write




Fact vs. Proof.


After a couple, two, tree(sic) years in advertising, marketing and branding I tethered my career to a single word I believe to be the bedrock of good selling: proof.  Today we are awash in facts. And data. And sadly, fake facts and misrepresented data. Prior to the new political environment, a huge contributor to this blight was and continues to be the internet – where you can say just about anything and get away with it.

As someone who grew up in an advertising world where TV stations asked for storyboards to be sent  to “Standards and Practices” for verification, truth actually reigned. Not today. People can say anything, so long as they appear to have conviction.

Today, facts are malleable. But Proof isn’t. When I started pontificating about proof years ago it was because I felt it to be a competitive advantage to actually say something then give people a reason to believe it. “Reason to believe” is a fairly common creative brief heading. Most advertising and marketing these days is claim-heavy and proof-light. So, the logic went, if I can dial up proof in branding — in demonstrations of a brand claim (e.g., Coke is refreshment) — I can get greater ballast in consumers’ minds.

It’s not enough to find a fact and publicize it. “Geico can save you 15% on your insurance.” You have to prove it. Proof makes the branding world go ‘round.  It also injects science into marketing. The brain requires proof. Brands require poof.

For examples of proof from within your business category write




Discovery Vs. Hacking.


All brand planners have their own unique ways to come at strategy problems. Also known as marketing problems. Most activity falls to fieldwork and research.  The latter tends to be quantitative (data) while the former tends to be more behavioral — conducting interviews with consumers and influencers. Much of this work can be labelled discovery.

The word hacking has grown quite a bit over the last 10-15 years. Hacking is a computer coding reference to unauthorized access but has since evolved to mean “shortcutting” to solve a problem…a means by which people use binary lessons (decision points) to bypass long logic ladders to get to answers quicker.

I’ve done brand discovery digging deep, deep, deep over the course of months to get to the claim and proof array (aka the brand strategy).  I’ve also hacked my way to brand strategies in 8 hours. (Not including dream time, that’s not billable.)

Long form discovery is safer and allows for more science. Hacking is perhaps less safe but more gut-ful. More intuitive. 

Of course, some assignment are more complex that others.  Trail of Bits, say, was way more complicated than was Sweet Loren’s cookie dough. Teq, an educational development company, was multidimensional whereas Handcraft Manufacturing was straight forward.

Hacking and discovery are two valuable brand planning tools. They provide the inputs. Where the rubber really meets the road though, is in the outputs. A story for another time.






Some people in the brand business believe naming is one of the more difficult undertakings. I can’t disagree. 

Naming often occurs before the product is built or generally available. But we name children sight unseen, so what’s the problem? Well, a good brand is remembered for its value(s) so when we imbue values in a name we have a leg up.  

When I work on a naming assignment I start with a brief. It can be tough if the product or service isn’t completely cooked — a chicken and an egg thing — but you can’t build what you don’t know so let’s start with what you know. Plus a tight brief (strategy) can guide a build.

I have a hard time believing how any creative projects, not just naming, can start without a brand brief. It’s silly. And a waste of time. 

Branding is a verb. It happens over time. Without a plan, a brand plan, the verb is lost and you’re stuck with a noun. Name your product or service with a living, breathing plan. Brief it up!

If you’d like to talk brand briefs, write




Brand Discovery Tip Number 1.


Disappointment is an emotion all humans experience.  If you haven’t been disappointed in life, you haven’t been trying.  Discussing these moments is also telling about what is important to you.  When doing brand discovery, especially for B2B clients, I like to ask about a key disappointment when talking to stakeholders.  Not everyone is happy to share their personal feelings but for many opening up about can be cathartic. Even when talking about a modest disappointment, a good interviewer can delve a little deeper into other areas that may be more telling.

When doing this type of work it’s important to share some of your own disappointments. It can prime the pump, as it were. Especially if in a similar are of business. Also, don’t stop at shallow answers, such as “We should have sold more widgets.”  Or “We lost our best designer.”  Drill down so you can feel from where the real pain emanates.

This doesn’t have to be downer time. And it’s certainly not judgement time.  It’s about truth and learning and building up opportunity.

Again, if you have no business disappointments, you haven’t been trying.




Amazon Brand Strategy. A New Claim.


Yesterday I parsed the Amazon brand strategy explained by Shah Mohammed while offering that the “everything store” was not the most powerful claim Jeff Bezos and team could have made.  It wasn’t bad mind you, but it left some value on the table. Today I promised to come up with a claim that trumped “everything store.”  The key to branding is to set the strategy (like setting a hook) with proof. Or what I call a proof array — three proof planks.

We discussed yesterday that the three proof planks were extraordinary convenience, comprehensive selection and lower prices.  A claim is best supported when the planks are closely linked to the claim. In harmony with the claim. Assuming these planks are right, and they certainly look right, how might we strengthen the claim?  

I would look at the word store. Sure, everyone knows what stores are. That’s good. But not everyone has positive associations with stores.  What about a word like bazaar.  It’s a bit more communal, sensory and exotic. A different kind of experience. And Amazon is certainly a different kind of shopping experience.  Bazaars are known for bargaining, so it delivers the low price story. And it hits comprehensive more directly as well.  

When brand manager are looking to develop programs to further create brand value (and sales), I bet they will have more fertile ground to play on “bazaar” than with “store.”

Always thinkin’.




Amazon Brand Strategy Eval.


I was doing some reading on the Amazon brand strategy and came across a nice piece by Shah Mohammed. Using Shah’s piece, here’s what I’ve come up with related to the Amazon value proposition.  I have organized things into my own framework.

Amazon’s claim is the “Everything Store.” And the three proof planks are: extraordinary convenience, comprehensive selections, and low prices.

Reverse engineering in brand strategy is not a fool’s errand but it isn’t really fair; especially since brand strategy is best designed for nascent brands. That said, let’s look at how the proof planks support the Everything Store. Certainly comprehensive selections is perfectly linked.  Extraordinary convenience can be assumed since it’s the only store you will have to visit for all your shopping. Mental imagery might suggest there will be a lot of hunting around for things, but since part of the Amazon’s Is-Does is that it’s an online store, we assume convenience so long as usability is good. (Remember, we are looking at this from Amazon’s beginnings as a brand. The last proof plank is low price. One might infer low price because of the store’s scale. One might also infer low price because the only physical footprint is warehousing and shipping. But assumption and inference are not a brand strategy’s best friend so they may have left some brand bank on the table

Looking at the brand strategy construct I would have to say Everything Store, though apt and simple, underdelivers as a brand claim. Tune in tomorrow and we’ll see if we can find one a little richer and more exciting.






Enculturation in Branding.


One of the hardest parts of being a brand strategist is getting clients to comply with the strategy. If it results in a new logo, no problem. Signage changes, though never quick, are done. Website home page, sure. Ad campaign, lock ‘em and load ‘em. But enacting the strategy throughout the daily course of business, that’s hard.  Employees just like to do business as usual – thinking branding is for the marketers.

I define brand strategy as “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. When employees understand this principle – comprised of a value claim and three proof planks — they know how contribute. Sure they will still do their jobs, but they will understand the “why.”

Yet more often than not brand strategy is not shared with the rest of the company. And if it is, it’s not really enculturated. It’s more likely sent out in an email or Slim Jim brochure. It’s like generals leading from a bunker.

Before I begin working with new clients on master brand strategy I need to spend more time explaining the importance of sharing, understanding and compliance within the company.  The entire company. And company partners. A friend of mine with a company named Kudzu Brands, is onto something.