Brand Strategy

    Marketing and Branding Are Different.


    I was listening to a segment on Fox Sports Radio…I said sports radio… and one of the guys was talking about the NBA logo and its value.  I may have misheard but its possible someone had suggested putting Kobi’s likeness in the logo. The talk show host, it might have been Ben Maller, was against the idea suggesting it’s bad business to mess around with a very recognizable logo — one with so much brand equity.

    He went on to say “Marketing is the battle of perception not products,” and I go all “Whoa, hold up.”

    Au contraire sir.  Marketing is, most definitely, the battle of product. “Sell more, to more, more times, at higher prices” said Sergio Zyman.

    Brand Strategy is the battle of perception. Brand Strategy is the brain work, the mental conditioning, the preference creation that leads to predisposition.  Brand strategy is words on paper that directs the mental outcomes that change consumer behavior.  Moving a consumer closer to a sale. Marketing encompasses the tactics – governing product, price, place and promotion – that activate a sale.

    These words are not interchangeable. Brand Strategy is strategy. And marketing is the mission critical plumbing that makes it happen.



    Jeep Grand Cherokee Brand Controversy.


    Representatives of the Cherokee Nation have asked Stellantis, the car manufacturer that owns Jeep, to stop using Grand Cherokee as a brand name of the top-selling SUV. Stellantis by the way, is the name resulting from the merger of the Fiat Chrysler company with Peugeot. (I’ve got to get out more.)

    Living not too far from Cherokee, NC and having read up on the Tribe’s history, e.g., Trail of Tears, broken treaties, deforestation, racism, I understand their sensitivity. It’s time for a change.

    Naming is tough. Just look at the moniker of Jeep’s parent company. Hee hee. And it will take fortitude to rename this car brand with such a strong heritage. All the more reason to do it right. And with permission. Perhaps negotiate with the Cherokee nation and use something from their native culture. It’s a respect thing not a money thing.

    Most Grand Cherokee owners will not be happy with the name change. That’s up to them. Jeep is a powerful master brand and will lend a hand to any car name chosen.  But my recommendation would be to celebrate the Cherokee Tribe with a commemorative name, approved by the Tribe, that suits the car and strengthens it’s Americana cachet.




    Print Journalism


    I subscribe to The New York Time national edition.  I counted 1, 3/4 pages of advertising in the first book or section this morning. The print newspaper business is in trouble. You know it. I know it. Luckily, after a slow start, NYT online is going gangbusters. If you search my blog posts from 10-12 years ago you’ll see I held out great hope for the online property – even when it was slow to adapt.

    If “All the news that’s fit to print” isn’t booking serious ad revenue, the paper-paper that is, what must be happening to newspapers in secondary and tertiary markets?  It’s scary.

    One solution might be to hire and promote the absolute best journalists in the land. And make them rock stars. Maggie Haberman may be the closest thing the Times has to a rock star. But there are scores and scores of other writers who need elevated personas and reputations. I know it cuts across the grain of the Old Gray Lady to take second chair to an individual writer, but it’s a potential solution. 

    Where will the money come from to pay and promote these stellar writer? From the budget that fills some of the other floors at headquarters. Cut the masthead by a third. Sell more stock. I don’t know.  Twitter is already helping writers grow their reps. Double down.

    We need great journalism. We need great writers.



    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.