Brand Strategy

    Strategy in A Pandemic.


    Let’s face it, no business person was ready for the havoc caused by the pandemic in 2020. Certainly not the airline industry that needed a 30-40 billion dollar bail out. And not local restaurants that had to close doors for months before being allowed to open with limited guest numbers months later. And any business that didn’t have a year’s worth of rent in the bank was screwed. Leveraged businesses with big equipment loans better have had serious cash on hand. The words “cash is king” never rang truer.

    The pandemic changed everything for everybody. Especially business.

    At What’s The Idea? brand strategy follows a key Patti Smith principle: “I don’t fuck much with the past but I fuck plenty with the future.” Brand strategy must be malleable and forward-looking enough to weather not only market discontinuities but acts of God. The “one claim, three proof planks,” framework was developed so it offers some guidance for operation during a disaster. When revenue is gutted, business must change…but the brand’s sole will not.  One of the proof planks, if not more, will still apply and assist in decision making. Across all aspects of the business.

    Everyone has s strategy until they get punched in the face, Mike Tyson said. But when dazed and confused, it’s better to have a plan.




    Brand Planning and Brand Strategy. Perfect Together.


    Lately, I’ve been hearing a little undercurrent that brand strategies are almost secondary to brand planning — the act of preparing a brand strategy.  The act of preparing insights, observations and conducting research is more important, so the implication goes, than the actual strategy itself.

    Martin Weigel recently tweeted to @phil_adams, who had posted that he had done a particular strategy, “Yeah, but did you do the planning?”  Suggesting that anyone can poop out a strategy but the hard work is the foundation – in the planning. 

    It would be had to disagree having a smart rigor to get you to a brand strategy is important. But conversely, you can rigor your ass off for months and come up with a goofy, off-piste strategy. Both are needed.

    Foundation is critical. And so is the idea. And the “proof planks” that create evidence in support of the idea.

    Good prep leads to good work product. It doesn’t insure it.




    New Foxtrot Market Campaign.


    So I came across what looks to be a fairly new retail brand in Chicago called FoxTrot. Nice name, great logo, smart targeting (urban millennials) and a good deal of energy. Also, some marketing peeps with good provenance. They offer some small, welcoming, design-forward brick and mortar stores and a very fast delivery system. All supported by an app.  One hour delivery, in fact. Sales were growing nicely before the pandemic, but now I’m sure they’re scorching.

    Foxtrot just launched a new ad campaign entitled “Good Stuff Delivered.” Not a very high bar they’re setting, with that line though.  And I dare say calling your up-market products “stuff” is not the best of positioning ideas, even with a little millennial je ne sais quoi.

    An article discussing the campaign references a “surprise and delight” strategy. Yet, searching for evidence of same I couldn’t find any. A free gift card? A gratis cup of coffee?

    This is an example of a strategy work that appears to be lead by the ad agency not the brand people. Perhaps, this is my bad for relying on a trade magazine for information, but my antenna go up when I hear surprise and delight.

    I love the business idea. It has legs. But the ad campaign feels a bit helium-based, rather than foundational. Give millennials more credit.



    Humanity and Branding.


    I was in a group meeting earlier this week and an ice breaker question used to loosen us up was “What new behavior have you learned as a result of Covid-19?”  Yesterday, standing on a Starbuck’s line the perfect answer hit me. “I’ve learned to smile more with my eyes?”  Most smiles behind a mask go unrecognized, so I make an effort to do my smile big – and with my eyes.

    How does this apply to branding?  Well, typical marketing is one dimensional. Convey selling information clearly and concisely before asking for the order.  Advertising done well offers a few more dimensions: maybe some music, some emotional hints, perhaps a story. But not all marketing is advertising. And frankly, most advertising is poorly constructed — infomercials in 30 seconds. 

    So if most of marketing these days is sales focused, then metaphorically we are covering up the humanity of our efforts with a mask. While our jobs are never to lose the mask, we must work hard to lets our eyes convey the humanity. Convey a smile. Inklings of humanity throughout our marketing and branding – be they search terms, packaging or naming – are worth the effort.

    Keep smiling.




    Consumer Experience.


    A musician is never more in touch with his/her art then when standing on a stage performing.

    A chef is never more in touch with her/his art then when watching people eat their food.

    Authors are never more in touch with their art then when listening to readers discussing their work.  

    And film makers never more in touch with their art then when sitting in a full audience watching their movie.

    So what is the moral here for marketers and brand builders?

    Watching and listening to consumers.  Especially consumers experiencing your product in real time. In situ, is best.

    Consumer experience is at least half of brand planning. Brand planners can’t process consumer experience listening marketing executives. And ad executives. And quantitative research professionals. It’s the fieldwork component.

    And, while the brand planners understand consumer experience is only half of the equation, they know it to be the most important half.




    Storytelling and Culture.


    Ana Anjelic is a smart, intellectual brand thinker. Her piece on storytelling and culture here is both these things. I would like to riff on her thoughts if I may. 

    I’ve been telling people for a couple of years that storytelling is the pop marketing topic of the decade. And I believe that. But I also believe it is an amazing tool if used correctly. And when I say correctly, I mean if the stories are not random but on brand strategy. Stories that are lovely but not on brand should be scuttled.  Now, not all stories are published by the brand. Some are consumer stories and harder to scuttle. It’s the brand managers job to encourage on brand stories from consumers and curate them. Not easy, but doable.

    As for culture, I partially agree that people buy brands to participate in a product culture…to wear that culture as a badge. Certainly, in fashion this is true. But I more so believe people use brands not to be a part of a product culture but rather to make the brand part of their individual being or culture. The buyer as tastemaker as it were. “I like Marmot gear because if works for me. It meets my design standards.”  It broadcasts an individual’s personal taste as opposed to being a member of a cult/culture thing.

    Stories are tactics, used to deliver strategy.  Culture is a memory map used to organize values. Both are topical and important tools when used the right way.




    Naming. And Breweries of Jackson County.


    I went to a brewery yesterday in Sylva, NC branded Innovation Brewing. The logo contains a machined gear in place of the O.  The good news is the beer is better than the branding. The tap room was well organized, all the beers listed by beer type. And they seemed to be in descending order of alcohol content. I liked the taproom set up, the tables were cool, the bar was well done and the outdoor seating quite fine.  

    That said, the name was just wrong — for a beer company in the mountains. Nothing inside the taproom said innovation. It was a tap room. Innovation was just a random word. And a non-endemic word at that.  Having done a ton of work in the technology space, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about innovation as a brand quality. Is the word an inside joke? As in, it’s beer for God sake.

    Whatever the strategy, the name doesn’t work.  Not for first timers. Having never been there before, had I a choice between Innovation Brewing and Balsam Falls Brewery (not a Google result for “Breweries Near Me,”) I would have selected the latter…site unseen.

    Naming is important people. Especially for first-time consumers.




    Credit Card Brand Craft.


    “Something Brighter” is the new tagline for the Discover Card.  I heard it on a radio commercial yesterday. It gave the brand planner in me pause. Say what? Ohhh. It has to do with the logo. The sun, thing-a-ma-bob in the word discover. Oy.

    I like to believe that most taglines are brand claims. (A brand claim is half the brand strategy; the other half being proof planks.) But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the company tagline is simply a line from the advertising campaign. Shoddy brand craft, if you ask me. It’s a touch lazy but something the expedient thing to do if the advertising is great.

    Something Brighter means what exactly? Better than other credit cards. That’s not much of a positioning; not when you consider most credit cards are trying to convey the same thing. Capital One’s “What’s In Your Wallet?” is an advertising line. It, too, hides the brand strategy.

    The credit card category is lacking in brand strategy. American Express used to do a good job, (Membership) but I’m not so sure anymore. Mastercard, whose ad campaign strategy “Priceless” is good, yet somewhat tired, almost has a brand strategy but it’s not an endemic card quality.

    There’s a saying in advertising “If you don’t have something to say, sing it.”  Well, this is not the case for brand strategy. They have to be meaningful and product-centric.

    Something brighter needs to happen in the credit card industry and it’s not the advertising.




    Jab, Jab, Jab.


    Brian Morrissey, former editor of Digiday, when guest editing newsletter Why Is This Interesting recently wrote:

    Brevity is more important than ever. There is simply too much content let loose on the world these days. During early Digiday, we did some kind of personality exam that advised people dealing with me to “be brief, be bright, be gone.” Many publications could stand to heed that too. 

    I hope this next interaction of digital media becomes more concise. Removing the unnecessary to get to the essence improves products and shows respect for the audience. “Engagement” is too often confused with time spent. The measure is actually just an imperfect gauge of value. Saving people time is always a good product strategy.”

    I agree completely with Brian. Tight is might. I recall reading that blog posts, in order to be found by the search engines, need to be at least 400 words, ideally closer to 800. Hell no! Not at What’s The Idea?  This isn’t The New Yorker. I’m not in the click bait business. I’m looking for readers. And it’s tough out there.  I’m hoping they will come back every day or at least weekly, so I need them to think. I don’t need to show that I can think.  And you can’t get there by pontificating and being verbose. Jab, jab, jab.



    Movements, Demonstrations or…


    Strawberry Frog likes to tout its brand and advertising strategy “Creating Movements.”  Movements are a slow burn – so, some might argue it would be more expeditious to “create mobs?”  Well, the difference between a mob and a movement is virulence and no marketer wants their followers to be hostile or spiteful.

    The business of branding is to influence in a positive way. To build value appreciation through customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. Research even suggests introducing an element of danger in advertising can cause consumer unease making them less likely to purchase. Sunny day anyone?

    Physics reminds us movement from a standing still position causes friction.  And brand people love to talk about tension. They uncover competitive tensions for breakfast.

    Most will agree creating mobs around brands is wrong. Stop gun violence. Stop the war. Better pay for nurses. All three of these examples offer the potential for anger but I wouldn’t call them mobs. Yet I also wouldn’t call them movements. Demonstrations might be a better word. Legal. Careful. Pointed.  Plus, I love the word demonstrations. Demonstrations also support the “claim and proof” framework which is the backbone of What’s The Idea? It works two ways.

    There is probably a good word between the passive movement and the more animus-infused demonstration. The search is on. Thoughts?