Monthly Archives: December 2021



Mission Health headquartered in Asheville, NC and owned by for-profit hospital group HCA out of Nashville has been under fire for a couple of years since its purchase.  Quality of care issues have arisen, as have the cost of care, and physician attrition. Mission has some image work to do.

Hospitals are notoriously bad advertisers. The occasional big brand hospital invests in a good ad agency and the work turns out well, but that’s the exception.

The ad herewith from Mission Health is an example of poor ad craft.

The one-word headline “Commitment” is lazy. Even with the subhead “That’s my mission,” an obvious play on the brand name, the line is meaningless. These are the words of trauma Nurse Jackie, the ad’s visual:

“I am deeply committed to this community. I’ve lived here all my life and have also been a part of the Mission family for more than 20 years. Now, as Assistant Chief Nursing Officer, I play a direct role in ensuring Mission remains the top trauma center in Western North Carolina.” 

Below this quote are the words “Dedicated to our patients. Committed to our employees.

Let’s parse the communications. Nurse Jackie is committed. That’s the claim. But the only proof of this (commitment) claim (better known as reason to believe) is that she has worked at Mission for 20 years and been promoted.

You can’t make a claim in an ad and not prove it. It’s a waste of money. And commitment is just about the most common ad strategy for hospitals since “care and caring.”

I really, really want Mission to succeed.  They do a lot of good medical work in the community. But when it comes to advertising (and branding) they’re not committed.






Hunt For Heroes.


If you haven’t yet guessed, I’m a big fan of brand planning. It’s a fundy (as Keith Hernandez would say) for proper marketing.  One of my favorite brand discovery pastimes is hunting for heroes.

My enthusiasm for heroes goes way back. While working at McCann-Erickson one of my favorite interview questions was “Tell me about one of your heroes.”  A fairly opened-ended question, it helped me discern a candidate’s social and/or professional proclivities. And the depth of those proclivities.

Today, in brand discovery, I’m always looking for category heroes. When social media first came along, I hunted up Posters. Original content creators.  Finding heroes was easy then. They had big audiences and important ideas to share. Heroes, shared for the betterment of the public. It started with people like Kandee Johnson, Melting Mama and dana boyd. But then the social web begat “influencers” whose intentions were more personal and skin deep. Less heroic. Posters also begat Pasters — people who curated others’ thoughts — also making it harder to finding category heroes.

Heroes tend to be selfless. Their agendas are the agenda of the people. (Not unlike Native American chiefs.) Heroes, like the tide, lifts all boats. Finding heroes helps me through my thought process. It quickens the blood. Makes my insights tighter. More real.

One of my contemporary category heroes is Aisha Adams.  She works in the area of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. She’s consumed by the topic. She shares to a fault, has an amazing sensitivity, and is most definitely part of the solution.  Heroes are out there — it just takes a little more work to find them.

Wake up every morning during your brand planning assignment and hunt up some heroes. It’s sooo worth it.



Voice. Tone. Personality.


This may be sacrilege in the brand planning community but I’m not a big fan of tone, voice and brand personality.  I believe those are words born of ad agencies not true brand strategists. Tone isn’t a strategy.

Tone and voice are the domain of the creative agency. Of the campaign.  That’s not to say those things aren’t important, they certainly are. Tactically.  So long as they advance the brand strategy: “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”

Brand strategy defies what is business-winning in the market pursuit. Creativity in delivering that strategy is what agencies do. Making the claim and proofs original. Interesting. Captivating. And those pursuits may require a change in tone and voice from time to time.

George W. Bush once used a phrase I loved talking about cowboy wannabes. “All hat and no cattle.” My brand planner take on that when disparaging a marketing campaign would be “all voice no strategy.”

Peace be upon you.



Branding Blasphemy.


One of my misgivings about the practice of brand strategy is that it’s often confined to the marketing department.  That is, it’s not really shared with and enculturated into the rest of the company — as if it were some secret sauce.  

It’s branding blasphemy.

Everyone in a company needs to understand the brand claim and brand proof planks.  They needn’t speak of claim and proof – that may be too much brand-o-babble – but they must certainly be able to articulate the key salient brand values.  

The best brands convey those values clearly to consumers. And the fastest way to do that is through full company buy-in. Advertising alone should not be the conduit. When company employees are living and breathing the values, brands soar.  

The CFO of one of my previous companies explained it perfectly. “Every night walking to your car, employees should ask themselves, what did I do today to insert brand claim here.”  If only a handful of employees from the marketing dept. are asking that question, the army isn’t working together.

One way to insure all employees are working the strategy is to create policies, procedures and practices to educate company cohorts.  (While at McCann-Erickson back in the day, we only drank Coca-Cola. Pepsi wasn’t allowed on prem.)  I’m borrowing these 3 Ps from my colleague Aisha Adams, a world class Diversity, Equity and Inclusion advocate. Theory is great. Action better.




Brand Solutions.


Brand strategists and brand planners make a living uncovering problems. Sales problems, targeting problems, product problems. I could go on and on. In my brand planning rigor, I delve into customer care-abouts and brand good-ats.  When customers care about something your brand is not good at, you’ve got work to do. That’s a problem. Pretending is not a good brand strategy. So you can see why many brand planners circle the problem.

But I like to think of care-abouts and good-ats as positive qualities.

Unabashedly a contrarian, I don’t spend my days looking for problems but for solutions.  How does one plot success for a brand without looking for hindrances? Weaknesses? Negatives?  Well, by looking toward the light.

Twenty years ago when baseball god Mike Piazza emerged from the NY Mets dugout with blond hair, he gave men everywhere permission to color their hair.  Did L’Oreal or other hair care companies use that moment to double the hair coloring market? Nope. An opportunity missed. A solution, sans a problem.

Attempt to be a solution seeker not a problem solver. It’s harder work, but more rewarding.






In my business I have clients. And many people would agree the first order of business in a service industry is to make the client happy – make them comfortable. When companies need brand strategy help, it’s typically because they’re experiencing some chaos in their marketing. So, to a degree, they are already uncomfortable. The question is, is it my job to make them comfortable? Well, yes. Certainly. But only comfortable in their decisions about the brand plan. Comfort resides in the decisions they make that will improve business.

But getting to those decisions can be discomforting. And that, too, is my job.

I’ve written a number of times in this blog how some of my brand claims contain a single word clients find awkward. They approve of the strategy but the mention of one word unsettles them. It’s like if you have a big nose, you don’t like to talk about noses. My response to these clients is “we don’t have to use the word” – my claims are not taglines – “but we do have to follow the idea.” With that explanation, I almost always get agreement. “Leave it to the agency to deliver the word.”

Sometimes I wonder if my job it to make clients comfortable to uncomfortable. I am not in the gladhanding business, I’m in the improving business business. And you can’t do that without breaking a few eggs.

So long as you are honest. So long as you are truthful. So long as you are being true to the product and the consumer, a little discomfort is healthy.






It really ticks me off when conservatives fly big flags on their trucks and pepper their rhetoric with words like patriot as if those were theirs’ alone.  When republicans and conservatives try to co-opt these words and symbols it’s good brand craft but disingenuous politics. Eddie Vedder sings “I am a patriot and I love my country.” I’m with him.

Former president Trump is getting ready to launch a new social media platform so he can have his free flow voice back.  As you know he’s been stricken from Twitter and Facebook for inflammatory content. His new platform, I read today, will be called TRUTH Social.  

I have lots of conservative friends. I love the Yin and Yang that is American politics. It keeps everybody on their toes. It keeps the populace engaged. Charged up.  It’s why our democracy has been around so long — this two-party system.  But based upon the social media slinging of the last few years, attempting to co-opt the word truth as a conservative tenet seems a little bit of a reach. But debatably it’s probably good brand craft.

Back in the day, you could not air an ad on TV that made a superiority claim without proof. Commercials with claims had to be submitted to Network Standards and Practices before being aired. They were truth-tested.  

I am all for free speech. I’m all for truth. But I do feel truth in politics is being watered down. Will Truth-ish be a word for this decade?



Attitudes and Evidence.


When it comes to brand strategy, most say it is hard to measure. I beg to differ.  With the proper brand strategy framework – claim and proof — measurement is easy. Albeit expensive. There’s a fairly common research methodology called Usage and Attitudes. Well, when measuring brand strategy, I suggest an Attitudes and Evidence Study is more appropriate.  Leave usage for more product specific work.

Quantitative research into consumer attitudes about a brand and key competitors is part one of the A and E Study. Part two is the evidence that forms those attitudes – the memorable proofs underlying those attitudes. Diving into the “whys” attitudes are formed is the domain of the brand strategist.

When one hospital is believed to offer superior cariology care to another, it is the evidence is that sets the bar. It’s not marketing words like “innovation” or “caring doctors” or “cardio procedure” gobbledygook.  When a restaurant is deemed to have superior flavors, it is the evidence that provides the proof. James Beard Awards. Nationally renowned chef. Unique technique.

Research that uncovers the evidence behind the attitude is what is measurable. It’s the science behind the strategy. Once these metrics are established and logged, then usage and sales can be overlayed. And the real fun begins.

Brand strategy measures are primordial. They shouldn’t be add-ons.