Truth or Proof?


    According to Stewart Alter, a McCann-Erickson historian and one-time head of publicity, copy chief Ralph St. Hill, at predecessor company The H.K. McCann Company coined the term Truth Well Told. A brilliant, if simple, piece of poesy, the line illuminates McCann offices on every continent.

    Talk to brand planners past and present and you are likely to hear the word “truth” many times. Words like transparency and authenticity are pop planning words, but truth has generational staying power. Truth in advertising makes lots of sense. If consumers sniff out even a hint of mistruth, they begin to shut down.

    As a brand planner I’ve built a practice around proof. Proof is what delivers truth. Proof is a tangible. It’s dare I say “existential.” Branding and adverting are certainly cousins but branding is the chicken and advertising is the egg. The chicken keeps giving birth to eggs. Brand strategy, done well, keeps giving birth to ads.

    The way to build a brand is to create an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging, the framework for which is one claim and three proof planks, and stick to it. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center may be the best cancer care anywhere (truth), but the fact that they get the toughest cases in the world is the why (proof).

    Brand planner hard drives across the globe are filled with proofs and truths. Search out the former in order to build your brand strategies.



    Can Humor Be a Brand Plank?


    I wonder about this as I dive into the Aeroflow Breast Pump social media campaign. Aeroflow is a reseller of durable medical equipment in Western North Carolina, but has sectioned off a nice piece of business helping to provide new mothers with breast pumps. They assign a rep to each case and help moms through the paperwork associated with securing pumps and paying the insurance. They then walk moms through the nuances, hardships and solutions associated with pumping. This is one of those business meeting pent-up demand.

    But can humor be an endemic plank that proves the brand’s claim? I go around and around on this but ultimately land on yes. If humor is a customer care-about or brand good-at, it can help brand value. The big but, however, is turning it into a good-at; not everyone is funny. And even through the Instagram account of Aeroflow Breast Pumps is always chortle-worth, even belly laugh worthy, that’s only one or two people at the social media controls.

    Humor puts for nervous or worried moms at ease. It’s medicinal. It’s therapeutic. I really works for Aeroflow Breast Pumps. It wouldn’t work for the other Aeroflow businesses, per se. That’s why Aeroflow is smart to have made sequestered this business a bit.

    Humor, done wrong, can be corny and an impingement on the brand, so Aeroflow has to be careful. “Two breast feeding women walk into a bar,” told by a 50 year old dude is not a good idea. But the way it is handled in social, is great. I’d love to see how humor could be introduced into other areas of the business. The beginning of a cool case, this.




    Random Thoughts on Why I Blog?


    Yesterday I asked myself the question “Why do you blog?” With nearly 2,600 posts and counting, it’s high time.  I mean I am a strategist after all, preaching focus and intent daily.  Do I blog to teach and make myself look smart? Do I blog to generate business inquiry and revenue? Do I blog to inspire thought and action? 

    One thing I do know, I blog to become a better writer.  No wise cracks.

    A great many of my posts seem to target people who don’t understand brand strategy. And because those people don’t understand, they aren’t searching for it. Chicken and egg. And to be totally honest brand strategy is a fairly arcane and untested science.

    As for my heroes in the brand strategy community, they already know this stuff. They are informed. So I can’t be writing for them. Tyro brand planners? Yeah, they would find these writings more worthwhile. 

    Potential clients, where the consulting money is, are searching for marketing solutions.  So while that target is into baseball I’m writing about football. Doh!

    I like hanging with brand people. Talking insights. Tools. Learnings. And success. Were I to quantify the number of said strategists, however, it would probably number less than 1,000 on the planet. Some might call them a dying breed. (I could even link the decline to global warming if I worked at it.)

    So perhaps it’s time for a redirect. From now on, I will make an effort to speak more to marketers, not planners. Maybe one or two more blog posts a year.  Hee hee.

    Phew, I feel better.



    The Secret Sauce Of Brand Discovery.


    At What’s The Idea? discovery is the secret to developing a brand strategy. Discovery being short hand for people talking about the product or service. And when I say talking, it can mean people talking to reporters — who do a nice job of capturing compelling thoughts, opinions and stories. (Tip: Find the best journalists or bloggers rather than the also rans.)  When immersing in a new category I like to ask people who their favorite “read” is. I once asked the publisher of Time Magazine who he thought America’s best editorial writer. William Safire he offered quite quickly. Even over his own columnists. I love truth.

    Where rubber meets the road in brand planning is what one does with all the discovery.  It’s nice to have a lot of different paint colors but you can’t add them all together.  I was reading a recipe for remoulade this morning and dismissed it out of hand. Too much stuff in the recipe.  And I love remoulade. It’s a nice analog for brand strategy. Too much stuff kills brand strategy so the planner must prioritize. In my case, I organize into a claim and proof array. I can’t promise you the claim emerges first, sometimes if does. The scientist in me wants to suggest once the proof array is decided, the claim emerges – but that, too, is not always the case. It’s a little bit art, a little bit science.

    But fear not — organize your proof into the most compelling care-abouts and good-ats (3 proof planks in total) and you’ll be well on your way. Back to the remoulade analogy, you’ll also be able to understand what you are tasting and why.




    Brand Strategy Informs Product and Product Handlers.


    Brand strategy, in this age of service marketing and the internet, where not everything sold has a label, is not as it used-to-was. Here’s a new worldview.

    At What’s The Idea? brand strategy is defined as “an organizational framework for product, experience and messaging.”  The existential function of branding to date has been naming, logos and labeling — followed by the design of marketing materials. But a huge percentage of sales these days come not from labeled products and goods, but from services and digital; things that are malleable and easily changed. Today it’s okay – no preferred – for brand strategy to inform the product, not just the other way around.  

    It’s a strategic palindrome: the product/service informs the brand strategy and the brand strategy informs the product/service. That’s step one. Brand strategy informs the product.

    Step two is brand strategy informs product handlers. This allows everyone instrumental in selling, marketing and product-consumer interface (experience) to do so in a non-random, value-based way. Not cookie cutter. Strategic.

    From metaphor land, product handlers are making deposits in the brand bank.

    Once the product is right and the product handlers are indoctrinated, then we can start to think about messaging. 

    Sadly, branding dollars are mostly spent on naming, signage, collateral design and ads – without a deeper codified thought.  A paper strategy or strategy of words is the brand building fundamental today. It can be measured. And, overlaid with revenue numbers. Try doing that with a logo.

    (Rest in peace mama. You were a treasure.)




    First Get The Brand Right.


    Here’s my pitch to people who manage small and mid-size companies. Also, to large companies in technology, considered purchase and B2B categories – most of whom think marketing is the main tool of growth. Marketing being defined as creating demand, proper pricing and good distribution.  I explain that marketing today is mostly practiced as a downstream pursuit with time spent on buildables. On tactics and execution. “Update the website. Generate more social engagement. Put on a promotional event.”

    I counsel these people, these builders, to first get the brand strategy right. First and foremost.  Because the brand strategy sets the parameters of winning in the marketplace. It establishes a framework for product, experience and messaging. The irony of my job is that I often have to look and product, experience and messaging, after the fact, to help create the framework.  It’s a little bass-ackwards.

    Get the brand right and it’s so much easier to get the marketing right.  “Ready, fire, aim” it’s not.






    Yesterday I watched a recording of the Cannes presentation by Rob Campbell and Martin Weigel on “Chaos.”  It was lovely and refreshing. Smart men, both. During the Q&A someone asked “Isn’t chaos a lot like disruption?” Indignantly, Rob said “No.” very different, he offered  

    I’m with Rob, sort of; disruption is so overused. It’s a pop marketing term to which all aspire.  Overall though, I’m not so sure I heard how chaos is that much different when it comes to heightening creativity than are many of the other pop marketing memes planners and creatives have bandied about for years.  Chaos is just a new word for it.

    The big news, as I heard it, was a call for increased focus on people (not consumers) and getting out of the building — rather than relying solely on data. And frankly, getting out of the building is not that new.

    Chaos in practice is recombinant culture, as Faris Yakob might say. Chaos is the mistake that invented Post-It Notes. Chaos is a bird song inspiring “Stairway To Heaven” (I made that up). Chaos it the synapses, synapsing. It’s the irony of disorganization.

    I agree with all things said by Messrs. Campbell and Weigel. Be it chaos or some other descriptor. We need to think more creatively about how we think creatively. The clarion call to action they espouse is needed today.

    Where I will take issue, however, is the notion of creating chaos in a complete vacuum. Brand building requires that chaotic outputs operate in conjunction with brand strategy. Rob and Martin may not agree. Then again….



    The Branding Supply Chain.


    The branding supply chain is not a thing, but it should be. A supply chain is a chain of custody of manufactured elements that go into a finished product. In electronics, it’s not abnormal for a component to ship across the ocean three or four times before finding its way into Best Buy.  The comms chip is made in the U.S., sent to China to be put onto a circuit board, sent back to Mexico to be assembled into TV guts before being shipped back to Asia for its screen or glass.  Then onto a huge ship to cross the Pacific in 2 weeks.

    In branding, the supply chain can be similarly messy. First a brand strategy is created (hopefully). Then it’s approved by the CEO and C-suite. The marketing department (often in flux) internalizes the brand brief and puts their own imprimaturs on it. Bring on the vendors. The web people turn it into a home page. The user experience leads finesse it into a lovely journey. The search people seek out clicks. The ad agency develops a campaign. HR massages it into the welcome packet for new employees – 18 months in the making.  And frankly, few of the aforementioned have really read the brand brief. And those who have are probably the department heads, not the workers.

    By the time all the work is assembled by hands inside and outside the company, the words and images have traveled over too many oceans. Then the new chief marketing officer comes in (every 18 months) and says, “So, what’s our brand message?”

    Tighten up!



    Brand Planners Are Not In The Ad and Sign Business.


    Ask a SMB (small or mid-size business) owner “What do you want consumers to think or feel about your product as a result of using it?”  Brand-centric marketers might call this the “net take-away.”  The usual answer will be some contorted, ramble of about 45 seconds, with an occasional heavenward look and a smile. If a brand planner asks the question the smile is apt to be more self-conscious.

    The point of the exercise is to see if the product’s value proposition is refined. Not raw. Not piecemeal. Not at all fickle.

    If a business owner can’t settle on a good description of his/her business or product, then that owner needs a brand assist.  If they can’t agree on a fairly static brand value statement, something is not fully baked. And usually it’s not the product, it’s the owner.

    It is the job of the brand planner to extract the brand value statement that gives comfort to the business owner. One that through a claim and proof array, creates an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.

    Some think brand strategy is not product strategy. It is. Many are not aware that brand strategy is about the retail or service experience. It is. Yet everyone will agree messaging is the brand strategy reason-for-being. And it’s this latter, singular view that most hurts brands. Brands planners are not in the advertising and sign business.

    McPeace. (Not autofill for make peace.)