Monthly Archives: March 2023

Brand Strategy as Science.


Brand planning, like advertising, is sometimes thought to be a little fuzzy when it comes to its effectiveness.  A “trust me” endeavor.  An ad agency spends months coming up with a new campaign, polishing it for weeks, only to have it fall a bit flat in execution.  Great art, not so great at delivering sales commitment.

Brand strategy, one step away from advertising and marketing, may be even harder to measure in terms of sales delivery.  The strategy gets stepped on by intermediaries. Creative people are notorious for selling an idea that sparks interest, rather than interest in purchase.

We do nothing in the marketing if not moving customers and prospects closer to a sale. Cash registers, credit card swipes, online shopping carts need to go cha-ching for marketing to be seen as effective.  Brand strategy is an organizing principle designed to make that happen.  So how do we know if a strategy is affecting cha-ching behavior? How do we employ science to tie sales to strategy? Through research.  Attitude research.

When customers and prospects believe your CPA firm digs deeper than competitors to uncover favorable tax law, you earn more business. When a jeweler is believed to have more experienced bench workers than other repair shops, you earn more business.  Find the right care-about or the right good-at, gauge customer perceptions against that measure, overlay it with sales figures and you blow by the theory and straight into the scientific formula.




Brand Positive


As mentioned in an earlier post, brand planners — the day-to-day sort — spend their days looking for problems to solve.  A bit of a bummer day-job, if you ask me. Once articulated, brand planners surround the problem with insights and solutions and level out on a single communication to solve said problem. Hey, it’s a living. It can make for great ads and planning awards.

At What’s The Idea?, brand strategy is a one-time exercise AKA master brand strategy. It’s where I create a toolkit to solve problems. But the tools build the brand. (Tools, comprised of a claim and three proof planks.) So, where an everyday brand planner might create a very effective solution to an individual tactical problem, specific to the problem, a solution based upon the master brand strategy has more focus and aim. The latter makes deposits in the brand bank as Marilyn Laurie used to say.

You can’t just put a logo and tagline on a randomized problem/solution message and call it brand positive. You have to deliver the master brand strategy.

For examples of such master brand strategies including the claim and proof framework, please write me at






After I’ve delivered a brand strategy, a client may ask me “Now what?” Meaning, what do they do differently.  My answer is execute. Make stuff, e.g., marketing materials and programs, that deliver on your brand claim. Market to the strategy — invest in your claim and proof.

What’s The Idea? readers know brand building is not about claim alone.  It’s about proof. Marketers must work the proof planks. (Proof planks are groupings of reasons to believe.)

I often grouse about benefit-shoveling. A tactic used in advertising where marketers load-up on benefits bludgeoning consumers into buying. By the pound, if you will.  Well good communications tell a single story. A linear story that uses logic. Benefit-shoveling confuses. It obfuscates and it overshares. The best ads are single-minded.

For good brand craft, tell your story focused on a single proof plank. Don’t combine all three. Branding is a long game.  Using a sports analogy, don’t explain how good your football team is by talking about the offense, the defense and the coaching all at once. Pick one.

For brand managers approving marketing materials developed by creative partners, start off by asking “What proof plank will we looking at today?” And, “What specific proof(s) will you be highlighting?” That’s brand strategy.  That sets the tone for presentation and approvals of the work.





Brand planners talk a lot about emotional or higher order benefits.  That’s a good thing.  But certainly not the only thing.  In fact, I’m of the mind that those type of bennies are best left to the ad agency and creative people.  In my practice the lower order benefits, the product and service endemic benefits as I like to call, them are where brands are built.

“Campaigns come and go but a powerful brand idea is indelible” are words I live by. Culture changes, musical tastes change, hell the climate changes, but brand strategy shouldn’t. If your product formula doesn’t change, why should your inherent, endemic product value?

The delivery mechanism, the creative, should always be refreshed. Freshed. But not what you stand for. That is, unless what you stand for wasn’t well conceive. That is, wasn’t what customers care about. Or what you’re good at. If your brand position is a new set of Emperor’s new clothes, changed with the appointment of each new CMO or marketing director, you haven’t a chance.

Do the brand strategy leg-work up front. Do it right. Then live it.

As Neil Young says ““To give a love, you gotta live a love.  To live a love, you gotta be part of.”



Chicken or egg?


Over the course of developing a brand strategy business I’ve been lucky enough to work with quite a number of clients. Some work has been pro-bono. Other full blown. I’ve been employed to develop master brand strategy, write marketing plans and even hired to write complicated positioning brochures and websites. My rigor doesn’t really change but the output does.

In some cases, when hewing to the budget I hack my way to efficient use of time employing short cuts.

The brand brief is a key tool I use for most all projects. It’s a document that, when written properly, tells a story using a smart sales logic. When it is tight, I’m able to create more comfortably and sleep better at night. When it includes bumps in the road, that road is less comfortable, and my work takes longer. Some of those hacks, ways to get to the brand claim and proof planks more quickly, don’t use the brief.  Rather, I collect my inputs, classify them into key care-abouts and good-ats, and boil away to my brand strategy answer.

It has created a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma. Brief first? Or brief last?  

Hacks are great to save time.  In my business though storytelling is where my clients light up. Nod their heads. Say I “get” them.  So brief first is preferred.

Peace be upon you.


A Little Stand-Up.


I haven’t done a stand-up presentation in years. Covid saw to that. Yesterday I returned to action and had some butterflies.  Practicing upstairs in my office helped make everything go well – hearing yourself do it out loud makes a huge difference. In practice my jokes and body language were lacking but I knew my material. Brand strategy. 

When at my best, I’m telling stories and the slides offer good flow. Unlike when a kid in the business, my slides were one or two words. Maybe a picture.

“An artist is never more in touch with their art that when performing in front of an audience” is a saying I coined when brand planning for an online musician property — and it’s true for anyone doing stand-up (presentations).

The gig came in in just under an hour (it really flew by) and though there wasn’t a wet eye in the house, I was pleased. The audience clapped. The knowledge shared may even have changed a business life or two. Giving away knowledge is a great feeling. Everyone should do it.  Standing up or not.