Clear Idea.


    Robert Scoble has a question he asks every interviewee for his video blogs: “Who are you?” Answers always included name and title, but as Mr. Scoble mostly interviews heads of start-ups, many of which are somewhat anonymous, the “Who are You?” question also elicits a brief boil down of the product or service.

    If asked “Who Are Your?” my response would be Steve Poppe, brand planner. If speaking to people unfamiliar with brand strategy and brand planning I’d expand it with “I develop brand strategies that guide product development, customer experience and messaging.” 

    In my branding practice, nothing starts until we identify the product Is-Does. What a product Is and what a product Does. It’s branding 101. If the Is and the Does are not clear from the get-go you have a brand strategy problem. The Is-Does is mostly a functional description. It may not seem like a hard task, but it can be. Especially with first-of-a-kind products or services. It can also be hard for products with layered value propositions and for products in mature product categories introducing a new wrinkle or feature.

    David Belasco, the famous theater producer, is credited with saying “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my business card, it’s not a clear idea.”

    Get the Is-Does right and we can go to brand planning.




    Is-Does and Claim and Proof.


    Claim and proof may be my biggest contribution to the brand planning world. But first a story about another planning tool meme: the Is-Does. I was sitting in a parlor in Brooklyn many years ago with a number of stakeholders and volunteers for Bailey’s Café a community organization designed help Bed-Stuy students. We were all there to talk about building momentum. No one knew where to start the conversation so enter the planner. “Let’s go around the room and answer these two questions,” I suggested, “What Is Bailey’s Care? and What Does Bailey’s Café Do?” And we were off. Always the get Is-Does right. Back to claim and proof.

    Claim and Proof.
    I’m currently working with a local small business trying to punch up a flagging business hurt by the coronavirus. We’re looking to use social media, unpaid media, to generate some activity and business without spending money. After zeroing in on a part of the business that seems most fertile and the quickest to triage and I asked the business owner to send me some copy points about the products. As with most marketers, I received a list of claims. Claims are the oxygen marketing runs on today. But they’re a dime a dozen. Unsupported claims riddle the airways and byways of the advertising landscape. We’re drowning in claims. So we spent our time turning those claims to proofs. Evidence. Demonstrations. The things that make claims real.

    Proofs build brands. And not random proofs. Organized, disciplined proof. Your claim directs the organizing principle but the proof gives it substance.





    One Concern. Or Two. Or Three.


    So there is a really cool company in Menlo Park, CA, called One Concern. They are a bunch of data nerds who’ve raised $22M in funding, already have clients and have received a boat load of press, mostly positive. But here’s why you don’t give marketing and branding to data nerds.  Have a look at their Is-Does from the website.

    We are building planetary-scale economic resilience through AI-enabled technology, policy and finance – allowing companies and communities to identify hidden risks and maintain stability in the face of natural disasters.

    If you knew nothing about the company, what would you think they did?  They’re a resilience builder. In the technology space. And finance space. And policy space. Anyone have an extinguisher?  My hair is on fire.

    A few clicks down there is actually a better Is-Does, this one in English:

    While at Stanford University, Ahmad met AI guru Nicole Hu and earthquake expert Tim Frank, and together they channeled their collective passion into figuring out how to apply data science and machine learning to natural disaster and climate change.

    I’m going to give these people a pass as they are doing some seriously important work.  Not all the press has been good but they’re clearly in the business of saving lives on a large scale. They are likely, in fact, to save more lives than individual drug and healthcare companies over time. Data don’t lie.

    Super nerds need love…and they also need brand strategy with a marketing hand.  




    The Biggest Problem For SMBs.


    Small businesses need to think small but they don’t. Retail businesses tend to focus more, though not all of them. (A friend started up a deli and hedged his bet by putting in pizza oven.) Business-to-business organizations are notorious for lacking focus. The easiest way to see this is to visit their websites. Sometimes you can read the home page and the About Section and still can’t tell what they do. What the hell does a “collaboration company” sell? How about a “communications company?” These descriptors suffer from broad taxonomy.

    The opposite of the too-broad-to-be-meaningful approach is the “10 pound bag” approach. Rather than focus, these SMBs over-focus, over-explain. So a benefits company also becomes a financial services, wealth management, property and casualty coverage and retirement and executive plan company.

    The anecdote to this is what I call the Is-Does. What a company Is and what it Does. One simple statement of product and benefit. If you can’t get your Is-Does right, you need to find someone who can. And don’t expect a web development company to do it. Or an SEO company. They get paid by the pixel. They make more money the less articulate you are.

    Focus and articulation is a small or mid-size company’s best friend. Especially on the web. Insert your Yogi Berra quote hear. Get the Is-Does right and you have a great beginning.





    Insure Product Meaning


    Yesterday I Tweeted the question “Does anyone know what the Discount Double Check is?” Everyone has heard of it; it’s all over TV.  Especially on NFL football. Aaron Rodger’s who mimes putting on a championship belt after touchdowns has sold the little dance to Allstate Insurance who has paired it with some double check insurance option and uses that as a differentiator.  I’m so interested in the humor (or lack of it), I’ve yet to figure out what the product feature means. Perhaps you do. What are we double checking and how does it work? 

    It only took AFLAC half a decade to move beyond its quacking name-onic brand device until the advertising explained to customers that AFLAC is insurance that pays out if you are hurt on the job.   

    In both cases we knew what the company IS but not what the product DOES. They both fail the Is-Does test. The first test of marketers, and I know it sounds fundamental and silly, is to get the Is-Does out of the way. So all you self-described lifestyle brands out there, that’s way too inside baseball. It’s too markobabble. Get your Is-Does right.



    The Great CPG Data Dilemma.


    Data drives marketing. The most important data is sales. Duh. Always start with sales: daily, weekly, monthly, annual, forward and back. Data on purchase clusters, purchase frequency, bundling and demographics provide a wealth of insight, especially when compared to key competitors. One can look at dollars or units, regions, sales tied to marketing investments, both on and off-line.  However, as the data gets more complicated and pervasive, the sources require greater scrutiny.  How the data is classified and arranged is critical.  Consumer product data from Mitel and Euromonitor International aren’t always organized the same way and even when done so don’t always agree.

    The next problem happens when marketers cloudy-up the waters by making hybrid products.  Can a beverage be a carbonated soft drink and water at the same time? (Ice, for instance?) Is a frozen, ready-to-bake cookie clssified as a frozen dessert or cookie? Many are these data dilemmas. It’s troubling. And if the data companies don’t know how to classify a product it’s likely consumers are having similar trouble.


    Enter the Is-Does. What a product is and what a product does.  The Is is different from the Does.  The iPhone is a phone. Some product marketers don’t get the Is and it can be staggering – especially for startups. And the data dilemma is only making this phenomenon worse. So get your Is-Does right first and the data will follow.