The Is.

    brand strategy framework

    Does Not Impute.


    Imputed is my new favorite branding word.  It is what brand planners do.  We impute. In an organized way. In a memorable way.  In ways meaningful to consumers and ownable to brands.  Imputers are we. 

    And when the creative/marketing work does not convey our brand strategy values “It does not impute.” Rhymes with “does not compute.”

    A key to being able to carve out a memorable position and value in the minds of consumers is simplicity. Combined with cultural-forward currency. And endemic brand/category value. As is, when positioning a beer don’t sell the lifestyle. 

    The brand strategy framework at What’s The Idea is one claim and three proof planks. That takes care of  simplicity. As for culture-forward and endemic brand value, those are the heavy lifting of brand planning. That’s where you use your non-artificial intelligence. 

    Peace. And Go Julius Randle!


    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




    Key Brand Indicators.


    One of my jobs as a brand planner is to help companies focus. When a brand is focused, consumers can focus.

    The opposite of focus in brand planning is The Fruit Cocktail Effect. That’s what happens when you try to promote yourself as too many things. With fruit cocktail, the peach tastes like the pear which tastes like the grape and the pineapple and the cherry. There is no differentiation, it’s just one sugary mess. That’s what happens to brands that don’t focus.

    Lots of marketers today talk about KPIs or key performance indicators. They are a great way to manage business. (You can’t manage what you don’t measure.) But in brand planning we are not measuring Excel charts of KPIs, we are managing attitudes, beliefs and biases — and a limited few, at that. For the sake of this discussion let’s call them KBIs or key brand indicators.  To avoid The Fruit Cocktail Effect, What’s The Idea? dictates a One Claim, Three Proof Plank brand strategy. Effectively, measuring four things. 

    (One prominent phone company understood it could maintain market share if price perception was within 10% of the nearest competitor. That’s a proof plank. That’s a KBI. And that’s a business winning measure.)  

    For more information and elucidation, write



    Singularize The Solution.


    The brand framework that has worked for so many of my clients is one built around a single solution.

    First an exclaimer, there are two kinds of brand planning: Master Brand Planning, which sets the strategy for all brand activity and Everyday Brand Planning, where strategic planners solve tactical, temporal challenges. Whichever your brand planning approach — mine happens to be in master brand planning — there is a new wave planning rigor that lasers in on the problem.  With the main commercial or attitudinal problem in hand, the thinking goes, the solutions can flow freely.  There’s a famous quote often attributed to Einstein “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

    This hyper focus on the problem is where I take issue — not with the importance of the problem but with the resulting lack of specificity about the solution.

    My brand framework focuses on a single solution.  That solution is supported, proven and seeded in the consumer mind by three proof planks. The most famous and lasting brand strategy for Coca-Cola is “refreshment.” The proof planks for refreshment are: 1. unique kola nut taste, which hits the mouth and throat with a jolt, 2. served icy cold as evidenced by sweating bottle pictures, and 3. (still working on that one.) 

    The wood behind the arrow at Whats The Idea? is the solution. A codified, constant pulse of a single solution…supported by 3 proof planks.  When a master brand uses this framework, the design of the work is easier, approvals of the marketing simpler, and muscle memory of the consuming public less complicated.

    Problem and solution are critical components of brand planning. But I contend singularizing the solution is the critical job of the brand planner.




    One is the Loneliest Number. In Brand Strategy Frameworks.


    Someone on Twitter or LinkedIn posted the question, “What are your favorite brand strategy frameworks?”  My answer was “It should be your own.”  In a perfect world, there should only be one framework.  But the world isn’t perfect. The fact that there are scads of frameworks shows why brand strategy is stuck in the mud.

    I’m not going to explain my framework, though I can in one sentence.  It’s that simple.  But whatever you do don’t Google brand strategy framework.  A while ago I asked Kevin Perlmutter, a friend and one-time employee of Interbrand, who now runs brand strategy firm Limbic Brand Evolution, what the Interbrand strategy framework was.  A bit befuddled he suggested we Google “Interbrand Brand Strategy.”  Here was the result:




    All these and pages more, from one company. A company at the top of the strategy pecking order.

    Brand strategy as art may have multiple frameworks and approaches. Just as art does.  But brand strategy as science should have one framework. A replicable means of organizing product, experience and messaging. My company’s name is “What’s The Idea?”  In brand strategy there can only be one brand idea or claim.  It’s not What Are The ideas? It’s one idea.

    Oh and one framework.




    The Brand Strategy Blur.


    When I try to explain to businesspeople what brand strategy is, I end up using words like “framework” and “organizing principle.” But these words are rather formulaic and scientific.  I mean, what business doesn’t have a framework or organizing principle? So when the polite nods are done I tend to jump to the end-benefit. Recently, while explaining what I do to a graphic designer I tried to tailor it to his frame of reference saying “A brand strategy is the words a graphic designer needed to know what to design.”  For a copywriter “a brand strategy explains what the goal and content areas are of the writing.”  Again, a little structural, not so much benefit-oriented. So, I cleaned it up by saying “a brand strategy gives you direction, saves you time, and reduces wasted creative hours.” All of which save money.

    The problem with that benefit is since of the advent of the railroad, the automobile and machines, saving time and money has been an oft-cited end-benefit. Having grown up in the IT (information technology) age, working on many tech brands, I can tell you efficiency, and money saving have been the end-benefit of 80% of ad strategies. Some implicit, most explicit.

    How, then, do I talk about the benefits of brand strategy in a breakthrough way? I’ve been pondering doing so with a person-to-person or person-to-group workshop.  One in which I demonstrate the framework, interactively rather than theorize it.

    Tune in tomorrow for more.




    BS and AS


    Brand planners are reinventors. Faris Yakob, a leader of the pack, rightly says “all ideas are recombinant.” There’s nothing new. Only new packaging. I like to think we are reinventors. Invention being the mother of necessity and all. He just said it better.

    Brand planning is like peeling an onion. Freakin’ layers. And more layers. But at some point you need to put a stake in the ground and deliver a strategy. At What’s The Idea? I deliver a brief and a more operative Claim and Proof array (a single sheeter). The array is a living breathing list of proofs, organized under three key values (planks). The time prior to the strategy being delivered is BS. Before Strategy. Anything after, the aftermarket discovery, is AS. After Strategy.

    The beauty of my framework (claim and proof) is that all people involved are always on the prowl for more ways to prove the claim. With every proof unearthed we make another deposit in the brand bank. We are also giving the ad agency and agency-ettes fodder for new and exciting work.

    Brand strategies are like children to me. Whenever I see a potential new proof point for one of my brands I light up. And pass it on. Brand strategies are 20% BS and 80% AS. And then you die.  Hee hee.



    Whither Inspiration?


    When brand planning, there is collection mode and production mode. Collection is about research and interviews and consumer insights. The latter should be marketing-centric with a measure of cultural anthropology thrown in. The thing to remember about cultural anthropology is to never insinuate yourself into the equation. Never alter the behavior of the subject you are studying. And by asking questions, you are likely doing that very thing. It’s tricky.

    Once collection is done, and frankly, it’s never done, it’s time to start packaging. Time to produce. At What’s The Idea?, I’m lucky enough to have developed a pretty fool-proof framework for brand strategy: One claim, three proof planks. So for me production is about filling those boxes.

    I use lots of metaphors for pairing down all the info and learning and putting it into a one claim and 3 proof planks. The Boil Down is one such, where everything goes into a big stock pot and boils away the unimportant. Then there is the wheat and chaff metaphor and the cull rack metaphor. But really, inspiration for the claim and proof array is cerebral. The claim has to be right. Inclusive. Inspiring. Memorable. And the proofs planks must be scientifically accurate. And it all must fit together. Proof planks must be organically linked to the claim, not tethered or bolted on.

    And the inspiration for this brand strategy? From where does is come? From the product of course.



    The Edge Of Newness.


    In a discussion between Rick Boyko and Sarah Watson on the film about Sir John Hegarty I posted about this week it was said that brand planners like to “live on the edge of newness.”  Not only could I not agree more, I have to say it’s really what sets good planner planners apart.

    Newness is what we all strive for. Even with a simple concept, wrapping it in new language, context, and culture is a key to breaking through and being remembered.

    I like to talk about rearview mirror planners, sideview mirror planners, and dashboard planners. All are worthy.  But I think the craft is at its best when we play beyond the dashboard. Seeing what we can’t see yet. That’s living on the edge of newness. Peering over the edge. Planning for what’s beyond.

    In my brand strategy framework (one claim, three proof planks), I like claims that have some familiarity yet utter newness.

    Battle, Bartle, Hegarty (BBH), Sir John’s old shop, is at its best when working on edge of newness.





    Aeroflow Breastpumps.


    Aeroflow Breastpumps, located in Asheville, NC includes the following mission statement on its website:

    “To increase the instance of breastfeeding nationally by providing the best equipment and supplies for ALL moms, creating a community that provides support and education, and settling for nothing less than exceptional customer service.”

    Seem like a mouthful but when you parse the statement it uses a savvy, brand-forward framework.   

    “Increase the incidence of breast feeding nationally” is a perfect objective.  In the brand land of claim and proof, it’s a wonderful claim.  “Providing the best equipment and supplies” can be viewed as proof of claim. “Providing a community that supports and educates women,” is no-brainer proof.  And while “Exceptional customer service” tangentially supports the claim, it certainly could be improved upon.  Good customer support is the price of business entry.

    The interesting thing about Aeroflow Breastpumps is it’s a reseller of other people’s equipment. It’s not a manufacturer. What makes this company different is they help mothers with insurance — cutting through the kudzu that can keep moms from breast feeding. Putting pumps and other supplies in boxes, is the operational icing on the cake.

    While other brands talk about purpose-based branding, this company was born of it.  I love this company’s chances of continued success. They’re in a great space, doing important work, and talking to a very motivated target. Plus, they have a great head start on brand strategy.

    Well done. Peace.