Monthly Archives: October 2023

Global Brand Strategy Firms. I Mean No Disrespect.


Global brand strategy firms, the ones that charge in excess of a quarter million dollars per engagement, are big on science.  I love science. But in branding, science is expensive.  In my pitch presentation I like to explain this by saying the big girls (and their business consulting sister-thren) begin with multivariate statistical analyses. Then they build a regression analyses. From which they plot the slope before delivering cluster maps. Science.  Who could argue. Expense. Who could argue?

But the reality is, science doesn’t always predict success in branding. Sure you can deliver quantitative research supporting your value proposition. Even quant on “agree to purchase.” Been there, done that. However, smart companies know the market is fickle and doesn’t always respond the way science says it will.  AI aside, that’s why we need people to make decisions.

95% of my clients buy my work (which is their work) based upon qualitative findings. My average engagement is less than $20k, less than a 4C page in a trade journal. My point here is, for less than 1/10th of what the big quant brand strategy shops get, they can get sound strategic advice.  You know how I know? Because they feel good buying. They know I know them. And they know I know their customers. They just know in their hearts. Science might make them feel secure, but when you know you know.  

Also, the big quant shops have multiple points of contact.  They are like electronic medical records. A loose federation of information. At What’s The Idea? the brand is tight. And brand managers and CMOs like tight. The heart feeds the brain which feels emotional decision making. That is branding.




The First Step of Branding.


Naming is one of the most important functions of branding.

For a tech startup I worked at, the CTO liked the name Zude. It rhymed with dude.  I liked the name Mashpan.  It sounded like a home brew device, was a cousin of Mashup and the word Pan stood for “all, complete, total.” (Our product was a web authoring tool used to build websites without code. It was a drag and drop play.) My point? A name should that convey information.  

This week I attended a meeting of startups working on their financial pitches as part of Elevate, a Venture Asheville program. Two of the very cool startups have names that make my point.  One company is named East Perry, the other Larry.  The former sells ethically sourced sheep-skinned home décor while the latter sells a refrigeration device. I can’t go into too much detail on the latter (and changed its masculine name) as the product is proprietary but suffice it to say, Larry doesn’t convey dittly. And though East Perry sounds like a nice street name or address, it too, is not particularly pregnant with meaning.

Naming takes time, energy and forethought. Words are important. In the way they sound.  Their harmony. Their poetry (East Perry ticks that box.) But most importantly, what a brand name conveys informationally is mission one.

Get your name right and the first step of branding is complete.




Follow Das Money.


One of my brand planning tricks is to fully understand a business’s financials before I dive into the consumerism of the brand.  Back in the day, when working at McCann -Erikson NY, I was asked to be on a task force pulled together by AT&T and McCann to help write marketing plans for a number of emerging new business services.  Collectively we came up a rigor which I have refined over the years and renamed 24 Questions — all of which are follow-the-money questions to help understand the balance sheet and the opportunity.

I’ve been using the 24 Questions as part of my brand planning discovery for years. When you understand how money is made, you have credibility with the chiefs of a company. And that is critical when discussing strategy. And justifying strategy choices.

Don’t ever forget to follow the money when brand planning. Plumbing the depths of brand voice, purpose, personality and narrative are but brand strategy tactics.  Money is the composition.  


PS. For a copy of the 24 Questions, write


Benefit-Shoveling Or Culture-Shoveling.


I was watching a 75 video, masquerading as a TV spot, on LinkedIn the other day for a company named CQ Medical and, because I know the ad agency’s work, thought it a fairly nice piece of healthcare ad craft. But one word in the copy (“design”) threw me. I thought CQ Medical was a healthcare provider, e.g., a hospital, or health system.  It turns out — after a second viewing and some research — they’re a medical device company. An equipment company.

The first rule of advertising is explain what you’re selling. Unless you have Coca-Cola awareness. Otherwise, the ad is impressionistic and there are few Picassos in advertising.

I often write about the Is-Does: Explain what a product/service Is and what the product/service Does. Those who miss this step are likely benefit-shoveling. Or culture-shoveling. Too far down in the weeds to register with consumers what one is selling.

In branding, it’s never smart to jump over the Is-Does. Even if you have a limited target audience that supposedly knows your name. It’s “smart” brand craft to identify your product clearly. 





Persuasion and Benefit Shoveling.


I, and many other people of the technological age, have a problem with the word “selling.” My belief is marketing is best done, not by selling, but by educating.

When marketers give consumers the kind of information which predisposes them to purchase from you, you’re doing everyone a service. When you slather them in overused, meaningless sales terms you’re wasting breath, time and money.  It’s like the dog that hears a master say blah, blah, blah, blah, want to go out?, blah, blah. Consumers today have become inured to sales pitches.  Not only do they not hear them, they’re often repelled by them.

Brand strategy — the “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” — positions a product for success. The process by which one builds such a strategy is drive by boiling down “customer care-abouts” and “brand good-ats.”  But here’s the catch: those care-abouts and good-ats must be values that persuade.  Values that move a customer closer to a sale.  They can’t be generic values, e.g., best tasting.  And they shouldn’t be non-endemic values, e.g., best customer service.

I’ve coined the term “benefit-shoveling.”  When marketers shovel benefits at consumers, and they haven’t spent time boiling them down or choosing persuasive benefits, they are not building a brand.  They are tearing it asunder.