Branding Pablum.

    Company Culture.

    Brand Claim.

    Brand Strategy

    Dynamic Strategy?


    I like EP and Co and strategy lead Chris Plating, though I never would have changed the original agency name Erwin Penland to EP. (Stay on track Steve.) Everybody in the ad business is looking for an edge and to that end EP and Co. just launched a new research modality called EPiQ. 

    I read the introductory LinkedIn post a couple of times and am not exactly sure what it is.  Marko-babble is a bear. It may be some sort of online panel that works as concept testing and creative testing.  And it seems to throw off consumer insights, either through AI or manual data nerds. Nothing wrong with that. And the name is okay. 

    Where I get rubbed though is when I see explanations like this, from new hire Sheniqua Little, who comes to EP with serious chops: “Compelling research results fuel dynamic strategy and creative.”

    The words dynamic strategy, in the context of brands, is an oxymoron. Brand strategy should not change with the wind. Even if consumers are driving that wind.  Brand strategy is built upon what consumers want most and what brands deliver best. (In What’s The Idea? parlance, those are care-abouts and good-ats.)

    This tool seems to suggest strategy can change in almost realtime — as long as its consumer derived.  I love consumers trust me. But the Yin and the Yang of branding is a balance. Changing your strategy based on consumer Galvin Skin Response is a mistake. Lock down your brand strategy then use EPiQ to test communications effectiveness of tactics. But not the strategy.






    In Defense of Ad Agencies. 


    The state of the advertising agency business is dismal.  Employees are leaving in droves and there is underemployment.  Black and brown people are nowhere to be found. If you are over 50, you had better be the CEO… and even then your days are numbered. And Google has replaced thousands of agency jobs.

    I work with a number of start-ups and young‘uns starting out in the business think Google Ad Words and YouTube videos explained customer acquisition are the way to successful marketing. It’s tactics-palooza out there.  Twenty something junior brand managers are doing $30k TV commercials, using friends with iPhones (FWi?) to shoot video, sans storyboards.

    I’d venture to say 15% of the advertising business – the so-called Madison Avenue ad business – has moved in-house, where craft is more likely the beer near the ping pong table than the creative product.

    Cranky much Steve?

    Twenty years ago there was a creative revolution: 72 and Sunny, Mother, Droga 5, BBH,  Crispin Porter. Now Accenture is the biggest digital shop. And David Droga is chief idea macher or something.

    I’m a strategy guy. Where my brand strategies end up is for the clients to decide.  I like to think though, that if a marketer invests in a tight brand strategy, they’re smart enough to want breathtaking creative. The best bet for great work is with an agency. Where the disciplines collide and thinkers rule the roost.  Not where an assembly line of tyros with titles and the algorithm do the work.

    Rant over.






    One Part Strategy.


    I may have gotten this whole consulting thing wrong.  After a recent Zoom with a business consultant who was nice enough to let us look behind the curtain, it became clear that these men and women are really smart when it comes to business.  Brand planners? Not so much.

    When talking about his business proposals, it became clear that chunking it up into three parts is business-winning. Part 1 is a review of the business and situation analysis.  He conducts lots of interviews, evaluates best practices, understands success measures and establishes benchmarks. Probably lots of other B school speak and acronyms. Part 1 ends with a presentation of findings. Most notably, the findings will contain business problems impacting the bottom line. Specifically.

    Part 2 of the proposal, should you decide to accept if, is outlined as more of a strategy document. It has its own price tag.  With a proper articulation of the problem, any good business person will want to go about fixing things, so they need a strategy. The fish is nibbling at the bait. Part 2, one must imagine, will include objectives, quantification of measures, strategic option reviews and projections, and recommendations. Oh, and more interviews and some quantitative research. All of which ends in a presentation. So what does that leave?

    Part 3 is Operations. Now that the problem and strategy have been identified, someone has to build something. Change something. Make the magic happen. Part 3 of the consulting engagement is where the real money is spent. The beauty of this three-pronged approach is that initially the client is signed on for only one part but typically adds on parts 2 and 3 because they fit nicely together.   

    What the brand planning consultant does, at least this brand planner, is collapse parts 1 and 2 and go straight to the solution. Silly me. Rather than spend up to a year laboring over 3 parts, I use agile techniques. I get to strategy fast. Straight to sausage. Oh, and at a fraction of the cost or the business consultant. Clients don’t measure me by the pound of paper I deliver but by the idea. And the organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.

    I’m a one-parter. And I like it that way.


    PS. And a good brand strategy is built to last. Campaigns come and go, a powerful brand strategy is indelible.



    Targeting and Brand Planning.


    For the brand planner targeting is everything.  But it can also be ruinous.  Finding the largest grouping of people that may be willing to buy your product or service is Job One.  Then finding a value proposition that the outsized target shares is Job One A.

    I recently read that Netflix has determined there are 2,000 “taste clusters” among their viewers/streamers.  Data science can cluster people pretty finitely. But in brand planning we see those 2,000 clusters as one. Finding one commonality in taste or attitude is a challenge. But hey, that’s the job.

    And no, we won’t build a brand around hangers on. People who do not care enough to commit. That would water down the target even more.     

    The challenge for the brand planner is to decide whom to exclude. Once you have a sense of outliers and why they are so, you can tighten up the key value.  Let’s face it, customers deserve more attention than hangers on.

    When doing your targeting and parsing that large target to determine their most sought after desires, don’t water it down and lose identity. Be tight with your value prop. Be discrete with your value prop. And be memorable.




    Making Stuff.


    Okay, I like strategy.  Sometimes it can be a difficult birth, but it’s such a noble profession.  Organizing.  That’s what brand strategy does. Inside the company, it organizes, the product, the experience and messaging.  Outside the company it enables creative counsellors and vendors to deliver selling brilliance, unencumbered by a blank page of intention.  For a creative person, having a blank page is hard. Really hard.  With a foot in the blocks at the starting line, facing in one direction, creatives can accelerate and thrive.

    All that said, creating programs, events, campaigns and communications is what gets the blood moving. Making stuff.  Be it beautiful pictures, heart-warming cinema, a raucous consumer event — these are the things consumers remember.  (Google “brand planners prayer.”) 

    I miss making the stuff that my words direct.  Watching other people make the stuff my words direct is a nice second but not a close second.  No regrets though. Advertising is a stressful business. Especially without good brand craft upon which to build.

    The tagline for Lucent Technologies, a brand I worked on years ago was “We make the things that make communications work.”  That’s brand strategy in a nutshell.






    I wrote this ad in 2012 while marketing director at TEQ.  I never showed it to anyone…until now.  It was meant to be produced as a handwritten letter from a student named Tania.  Hope you like it.   

    The roof in my kitchen fell in last night.  Me and mom and my little brother had to sleep across the hall at Mrs. Junez.  Mom was so tired she fell asleep on the couch with the remote under her. I had to pull the plug on the TV to get to sleep. It took me a long time to figure out how find the TV plug without turning the lights on. Mrs Junez doesn’t like mom but she sometimes gives me molasses cookies. She always asks me if I’m doing my homework. Always.  Sometimes I fib. I don’t want to make her sad.

    School makes me feel normal, but it doesn’t last long enough. I wish they had it until after dinner. I love reading and gym and recess. And Friday is churros day.

    Sometimes I walk home from school and look at the buildings and wonder who made them. It all started with a piece of paper.  Who is that smart? I like dreaming like that.

    My teacher sometimes says I don’t pay attention to what he’s saying. I try to. It’s hard.

    I do like it when I can go to the Smartboard, though. It’s like I’m the teacher.


    Everything you need to know to teach a child is in their eyes.

    Teq. The eyes have it.

    An Educational Development company.

    Interactive White Boards, Professional Development, Usability Training

    You don’t have to be  great writer to create a connection. Oh, and this ad was on strategy: Illuminating Learning.


    Brand Strategy and Shortcuts


    There’s an old axiom in police work that suggests the ability to solve a murder drops off precipitously if there isn’t a solid lead within 48 hours.  In brand strategy development, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a long process. At What’s The Idea?– and we’re quick — it takes a good month.

    I don’t even fire up the strategy side of my brain for good two weeks.  I need to collect.  Data, stories, insights, visual cues, user experiences, the list goes on. Everything contributes.

    Maybe early patterns emerge before I get thoughtful, but those are often false dawns. I require lots of information before I begin the boil down. Snap judgments early on can taint the process. Clean slate, clean slate.

    When you have enough info on your brand to start dreaming about it, you are in the neighborhood. You are getting closer.  When the information starts cascading like a waterfall in one direction. That’s when it’s time to put the strategy hat on and start writing.

    Mark Pollard’s book is called Strategy Is Your Words. Strategy is your work, as well. Don’t make short cuts.





    The Green Day Effect.


    Green Day used to be one of the coolest bands in the world. They were on a mission. They were angry. Angsty. Hungry (literally and figuratively). And they thrashed out music from their bared souls. It changed a generation. Their art, their music, was easy for them.

    Then they became millionaires. And lost their anger appetite. Mansions, Rolls Royce’s, having kids…can do that.

    I’m working on a brand serving the small business market. They came from small. They were underdogs. Had chips on their shoulders. They lived small business main street. As such, they offered customers a familiarity and empathy few could offer. But then they started to grow. And grow. Scale became important. As did systematization, which savvy use of technology enabled.

    My work is to help them grow while still maintain that small business appetite. It’s not a logo thing. It’s not a typography or tagline thing. It’s a brand strategy thing.   

    Lee Clow or Jay Chiat once said about their ad agency Chiat Day (and I parapharase) “We’re trying to find out how big we can get before we suck.” It doesn’t have to be that way. But it takes lots of planning to fight off the Green Day Effect.




    Brand Strategy Presentation.


    When presenting brand strategy to a client, I typically start with a couple of quotes from industry leaders. Then I share the names of those interviewed during discovery.  Next, I share what the brand brief looks like in shell form before taking them through the completed brand brief.  I read the brief which plays out like a story. The big reveal is the brand claim and three proof plank array (that provide evidence for the claim). Organized evidence.

    In closing, I share bullet points on brand claim Pros and Cons.  

    I’m thinking about changing it up a bit though. I might lead with a verbal introduction explaining what makes their brand great. That “what makes the brand great” explanation will actually map to the three proof planks to be presented in the brief.  But it will do so conversationally, not presentationally. A foreshadow, if you will. Every parent wants to hear their baby in beautiful.

    The heavy lifting of brand planning is finding the correct 3 proof planks. Selecting the values, from many, is the brand planner’s IP.  E pluribus threeum.  From many, three. Together, these planks are the values most proven to get consumers to commit to your product or service. A triumvirate.

    Sharing with a client what makes the company or brand great at the beginning of the meeting can build trust, familiarity and set the table.




    Brand Planks Explained.


    My brand strategy framework presentation to prospects, contains an example of a strategy for a commercial maintenance company. An excellent company in a tough, price-driven category.

    The three brand planks supporting the brand claim are: fast, fastidious and preemptive. Taken together, these three values – top customer care-abouts and brand good-ats – are drivers of business success. If customers believe this company is faster to resolve problems, pays more attention to cleaning and maintenance detail, and offers insights about potential problems before they occur, the company can charge more money and gain market share.

    Here’s the problem. If the was to do an ad saying “we are fast.” It’s a comes off as a commodity claim. If they do an ad that says they provide quality cleaning, again commodity claim. And an ad talking about preemptive, well, it’s an unexpected value and needs explanation.

    Let’s deal with Fast. This commodity claim can come with baggage. Fast sometimes implies sloppy. By paring fast with fastidious, we overcome sloppy. But to really seed the idea of fast with customers, we need to prove it. Productize it. Build a response mechanism into it so everyone knows the speed of delivery.  For instance, every customer calls to a service line generates a response in 15 minutes guaranteed. And for major issues, they guarantee a person on premise in 45 minutes. Guaranteed. Productized.     

    Words are important. Fastidious is not quality. It’s ADD quality. That’s how this company has to hire. That’s how this company has to reward employees.  That’s how this company has to behave. And mostly, it does.  Yes, fastidious is a word, but it’s also a product and operational strategy. And as I said, it improves the take-away on fast?

    Lastly, there is Preemptive.  This one’s the real kicker. Most commercial maintenance companies make money by completing tasks efficiently. To do so, they discourage employees from going beyond what they’re contractually obligated to do. My client does things differently; they keep their eyes open.  If they see a potential problem or anticipate a problem, they report it. This often solves issues before they cost the client money. A copywriter might spin the phrase “We treat your business like our business.” Don’t believe it. In the commercial maintenance space customers haven’t heard the word preemptive. It’s different language. And it can be operationalized. Maybe even productized. A history list of disasters avoided on the website maybe.

    Take the three planks together, not individually, and you begin to see the power of the framework. When all three actively support the brand claim you have brand strategy.

    To learn the brand claim that ties this company’s strategy together write Steve at WhatsTheIdea.