Brand Strategy

    The Brand Claim.








    Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is credited with saying “Prose = words in their best order; Poetry = the best words in the best order.”

    One of the nicest things ever said by a fellow brand planner about my work product was there was a sense of poesy about it. I like to think he was referring to my brand claims. Typically, they are brief. And they are always pregnant. A number of claims have ended up being taglines because to the ear they sounded memorable. I rather not label them creative. If they smack of a creative spin they clank when shared with a real creative team.

    Landing on the best words in the best order is how you know you are done with a brand claim.

    “Campaigns come and go…a powerful brand idea is indelible” is a phrase that best embodies brand strategy. And that powerful brand idea is the claim.

    As a brand strategy consultant, I’m not in the business of creating ad campaigns. I’m in the business of directing creative conception. The brand claim is the best, most lucrative, most efficient means by which to create good marketing work and judge good marketing work. It is the single most important element of brand strategy.

    The best words in the best order.


    (For examples of What’s The Idea? brand claims, please write


    Experiential Marketing.


    Experiential branding is a thing. It’s a big thing. Any good K12 teacher will tell you that broadcasting a lesson at kids is not the best away to teach — let alone, sending them home with a few chapters to read. The best way to get kids to learn is to engage them with sight, sound and thought-provoking experience. In science they do experiments.

    Brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. But the main drivers of brand strategy spending today seem to be naming, packaging and messaging. Experience, more often than not, a still a second class citizen.

    Brand strategists doing discovery understand experience. It’s how we learn. Consume the product. Tag along with sales people. Observe consumers and users. Experience the experience. When Annie Proulx prepared to write The Shipping News, she spent weeks in diners drinking coffee and listening to the local patois of Newfoundlanders. It informed her analytical mind.

    In a recent biz/dev email sent to experiential company I noted how experiential companies market their services using email and websites rather than experiential modes. Experiential is the sharpest tool in the branding kit. We need to pay it better mind.



    Good News For Kids. A Food Revolution.


    A former business acquaintance of mine recently joined a company called Revolution Foods. With a company name like that (brand) how could I not look it up. Thanks for the heads up LinkedIn. Above the fold on the website appears the following Is-Does:

    Building lifelong healthy eaters with kid-inspired, chef-crafted™ food.

    For newish companies, or companies with not a lot of brand awareness putting your Is-Does above the fold is smart. (This above the fold real estate is something I look at when using brand planning tool, Brand Strategy Tarot Cards.)

    I’ve done a good deal of work in K12 education and it is truly some of the most important brand categories I’ve studied. Teaching kids how to learn better is foundational, offering life changing result. As I’ve said before there is no bad learning, only bad teaching. A small but impactful subset of proper K12 education is nutrition. The more we teach kids about proper and healthy eating, the more Greta Thunbergs we’ll turn out. Revolution Foods is banking on this approach. If they do it well, the company will help change the world.

    It won’t be easy. But it’s definitely doable. In the 60s and before it didn’t take the greatest minds in marketing to sell sugary snacks. But there were some really smart people doing it. Santa Claus was co-opted by Coca-Cola in the ‘30s and altered consumption, let’s not forget. Teaching kids to eat green beans will be hard. But it’s not fly to the moon hard.

    I commend Revolution Foods and will study them moving forward. This is a company worth everyone’s time. A real game changer.





    The Problem With Brand Planning Tools.


    The world of branding is much like the real world in that there is science and everything else. What does that mean? Science undergirds the physical world, predicting the result of actions. Science repeats itself. Science predicts outcomes. Mathematics, physics, biology are all means to codify the physical world.

    A recent engineering client of mine taught me that tools fix things that are broken, but science precludes what’s broken. Cancer can be cured, we just haven’t figured out the science yet. Global warming can be dealt with, we just haven’t been able to muster the science and will.

    Many brand planners are tool-centric. I am pleading for us to be more science-centric. And that means starting way upstream of any tactical deliverable. Upstream of any buildable. In fact, it may be upstream of addressing a business problem. Because problems beget tools.

    Upstream means planning the master brand strategy. The organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. So many brand planners write briefs in support of a tactic. That’s downstream. Better to begin at the base level. At the foundation. Where the science is set.

    As you move your way up the stack (technology reference) or upstream toward the purchase, toward the tactic, you lose the science.

    Why is this a good approach? Because science is predictable. And predicting marketing outcomes is what is sorely lacking in our business.



    Mr. Brand Hammer.


    Yesterday I coined the term Mr. Brand Hammer – a reference to the axiom “to a hammer everything looks like a nail.” Mr. Brand Hammer (that’s me) smells a new business name.

    It’s a curse being Mr. Brand Hammer, surfing the ether, watching commercials, reading the paper, with an always-on need to make sense of brands and their strategy. It’s like living in a world of generic, plain yogurt. Colorless. Tasteless. Sluggish. Mr. Brand Hammer constantly evaluates how marketers are differentiating their product and services. Asking what’s the plan? When watching Geico commercials everything is humor and call-to-action. Buy us, get a quote from us. But where’s the why? Mr. Brand Hammer understands it’s not easy creating thousands and thousands of pieces of selling content…you run out of ideas. But you should never run out of strategy.

    What’s The Idea? is a business consultancy built around brand strategy. What’s the brand claim? What are the brand proof planks (evidence of the claim)?  The lack thereof in marketing drives me crazy. And you can tell it also drives marketers crazy. More often than not there is no discernable plan for selling. For building a brand.

    More cowbell. More gecko.



    Love is Not a Brand Strategy.


    I just bought a Subaru. It’s a cool and powerful brand but much of the heavy lifting has been done by the product.

    Back in 1991 I read a book entitled: Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign. Written by Randall Rothenberg, it told the story about a celebrated Subaru pitch by some hot ad agencies. I learned a good deal about the brand and, since then, things haven’t really changed that much from a product standpoint. The cars are still highly reliable, they stay on the road a long time, and perform well in the outdoors. The product is good, the brandcraft is disorganize.

    Everyone with a television knows the line “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.” It’s sing- songy. Uses the brand name twice. And who doesn’t like love? Should work, right? But it doesn’t. It’s an okay retention idea, which is probably why it’s been around so long but let’s face it it’s impossible to qualify. Whose love makes a Subaru? The manufacturer? The owner? Everybody? And what is it that people love? For a diffuse love explanation, visit the love promise here.

    There is a tagline I’ve seen locked-up in some of my recent communications “Confidence in Motion.” I Googled it and it seems to date back to 2016, but who knows. It could also be an international tagline. The line is the opposite of Love. Very unkempt.

    Subaru is a wonderful product for the times. For millennials. The product has outperformed the branding and certainly the advertising. Love is not what makes a Subaru a Subaru. If it was, they’d have a better brand strategy. Peace.


    Net Positive Brand Strategy.


    Peter Thiel, he of the PayPal mafia, has been quoted as saying “Competition is for losers.” Billionaires can afford to say that kind of thing, especially start-up fund billionaires, but the rest of the world is not so inclined.

    Strategists, especially those in brand development, must be aware of competition. Someone at McCann NY once counselled me to be mindful of “Who is going to lose the sale you’re making?” A brand “claim and proof array” must be based upon market conditions…and market conditions include the competitive landscape.

    But I have to say I like Mr. Thiel’s meddle on this one. I favor playing offense when it comes to brand strategy. Playing defense is akin to positioning around competitors.  Brand discovery, and you can peal the onion many ways, really comes down to customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. These translate to brand positives. If they happen to highlight a competitive shortcoming that’s fine. But just as Mr. Thiel wants to invest in companies for which there is pent-up demand and no competition, brand strategy is best done when net positive.

    With a net positive brand strategy in place, the tacticians can go to war and sully reputations if need be. But remember “Tastes great, less filling” didn’t say “competitive beers taste like ass and make you fat.”



    Brands and Identity.


    I was watching the lowly New York Knicks last night and the TNT halftime show announcers were trying to explain why the Knicks were bad. Kenny Anderson and Charley Barkley were riffing on the team’s identity. They had none. Were they a defensive minded team? A half court team? Fast break team?

    The fact is, as currently constructed, the NY Knicks are still in gestation. All the new players they brought in are okay, but none stars. So what’s the identity? Is it a player? When Carmelo Anthony was on the team, was he their identity? Can a team’s identity even be determined by one player? If you have LeBron, it can.

    I think team identity is more like brand strategy. And that starts with the coach.

    Teams like products are existential. They are what they are. Sure you can change the formula, but good coaches and brand managers, first have a plan, second they use what they’ve got. Coach K was the same coach with Zion Williamson, but he also adapted to the player. Brand managers can sweeten the soda a lil’ bit, but shouldn’t be changing the formulary upon a whim. They start with a plan.

    Kenny Anderson and Charles Barkley like Knicks coach David Fizdale but without saying it, they implied the lack of identity starts with him.

    This stuff isn’t random. Not in basketball, not in branding. A talented, informed and prepared coach, with a plan, is needed in both cases.




    Marmot’s super bowl spot.


    (This post originaly appeared February 10, 2016, then was taken down die to a hack.)

    I love the Marmot brand. I ski in Marmot, I sleep in Marmot, I do outdoors stuff in Marmot. I want to own more of it.  The gear is well-designed, engineered-to-the-max and good looking.  They’ve done a wonderful job with branding and marketing. (I have tend pole that bent, and it doesn’t even bother me. Why? Because Marmot is like family.)

    Then, before the Super Bowl, I saw a Marmot teaser ad campaign and knew I wasn’t going to like. Super Sunday I saw the real thing.  It’s a Goodby, Silverstein and Partners spot, focusing around, you guessed it, a marmot. Were this toilet tissue or insurance, maybe. But cuddly talking Marmot? Oy. I can only imagine the 2 other campaigns the agency pitched to beat this one. It should never have been presented. Lazy ass trade craft. It is so unfitting of the brand.

    I can just imagine the engineers in the goose down research center, breathing feathers all day, watching the game on TV with their friends. “A talking marmot, really?” No wonder advertising and marketing people have a bad name in engineering focused companies.

    As a brand strategy guy and Marmot fan it was a sad day. Even if the spot tested off the charts with the teens and tweens – the next generation of buyers – it was a brand mistake. A 5 million dollar mistake. And that’s a lot of feathers.





    Entenmann’s and Bimbo.


    There is a wonderful cake and confections brand in the U.S. called Entenmann’s. It began in Brooklyn, NY in 1898 and has festooned breakfast tables across America ever since. The logo, the white box and blue script lettering are known near and far. Entenmann’s introduced the clear, see-through box cover to let the product do the talking. The product is great, the packaging wonderful and the name fun to say.

    After a couple of other owners, Entenmann’s was purchased by Mexican conglomerate Grupo Bimbo (pronounced beem-bo). Bimbo Bakeries USA’s holdings now also include Thomas’, Boboli, Arnold, Freihofer’s, and Stroehmann. Bimbo is the real deal.

    It may seem ethnocentric but I’m betting Bimbo Bakeries USA would immediately increase its value by changing its name to Entenmann’s. I wouldn’t lose the Thomas’, Arnold and Boboli names, but I would master brand them under Entenmann’s.

    Bimbo has cred among the growing U.S. population of consumers with South and Central American heritage but can’t begin to compete with this American heritage brand that makes the mouth water. A brand that causes people to get in their cars and drive to the store. 

    Hey Bimbo USA, take this prized asset and ride. Hard. Blow it up and all your other brands will follow.