Explicit Vs. Implicit Brand Values.


    I was listening to the radio the other day and a spot came on for a hospitality company. The copy ended with line “A place for all occasions.”  Since a key brand strategy application is messaging (AKA advertising) I couldn’t help myself from twinging. (It’s a curse, I know.)

    A place for all occasions may be meaningful to the marketing or ownership team but it’s not to the radio listener. I can just imagine the client telling the writer,  “Our revenues are good in weddings, but we need more parties” or, “I’m making money on the weekends but need bookings during the week.”  To which the copywriter might have responded, “How about we close with a new tagline A place for all…”

    Here’s the thing, marketers’ problems are not consumers’ problems. You can’t tell consumers what you want them to do. You have to tell them why — thereby encouraging them to want you. Solve their problems. As a consumer, I don’t want a hospitality location for all occasions, I want one for my occasion.

    That’s why brand strategy planks are values. 

    Heineken once found out people were drinking their beer more during the day than at night. More as a refreshment or lunch beer.  They didn’t come out and tell people to drink at night.  They celebrated the night life and let consumers make their own decision.  Heineken gets branding.

    Great brand strategy is implicit rather than explicit. Get the care-abouts right, get the good-ats right, and you get the brand right.




    Brand Building. My Final Answer.


    Ask Quora, Google or WARC “How do I build a powerful brand?” and it’s like trying to map the heavens. “What you are seeing today, was alive a million years ago.” Huh? 

    For many in the brand space, obfuscation seems to be the currency of the day. People talk about brand personality, mission statements, style manuals, the business problem, key thought, brand architecture…  How many stars are in the sky?

    Not me.  I am a brand explainer. Brand strategy needs a definition and it needs a framework. My definition of brand strategy is “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” An organizing principle. Hard stop.

    As for framework, What’s The Idea? as the name suggests, focused first on a single idea or claim.  Something that captures and boils down all the many customer care-abouts and brand good-ats that can be articulated.  This is where the big bucks lie. E Pluribus Unum. Then to create belief and logic and a scientific understanding of the claim we need proof. For the purpose of branding we use three proof planks. Organized clusters that prove the claim. People are convinced by proof.

    With a definition and framework the work can begin.  Work done by agencies with hands untethered. Work done by company executives, with dashboards in hand. By consumers who have a lot more to think about than a sky full of products.



    One That Got Away.


    Newsday is a New York regional newspaper.  It serves Long Island, home to 3.5 million people. Newsday also has distribution in Queens. At one time it was one of the top 10 circulating newspapers in the country.

    The ad agency I worked for on Long Island, Welch Nehlen Groome, handled the Newsday account, doing periodic TV commercials. Mainly promotional and project work.  One of the problems selling newspaper on LI was that it was a commuter island. Most of the heavy hitter worked in the city. And those people read the NY Post and NY Daily News on the train on the way home. These were NY city-based papers with sensational headlines and great sports sections. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal were big morning reads, filled with business and national news.  Not a lot of space in between for a paper covering Long Island news, e.g., “Blue Angels to Appear at Jones Beach July 4th”.

    Much of Newsday’s circulation was home delivery; people who wanted Wednesday food ads and some local high school sports coverage.

    I wrote a brand strategy for Newsday, the claim for which was “We know where you live.” It was a plea to commuters, whose jobs were in the city and who lived on trains, to get back closer to their families and neighborhoods — but it also reinforcement to non-commuters and homebodies, the position that the paper as better attuned with their lives and lifestyles.

    Cool freaking idea. Tagline worthy I thought.  Someone at Newsday co-opted the claim to read “It’s Where You Live,” which was used as a tagline and lived for years. Unfortunately, it removed Newsday from the equation, a no-no. And it could have been interpreted as a simple usage claim. We know where you live, some decision-makers thought, was a little intrusive and perhaps anti-privacy.  Huge client mistake in my opinion. It gutted the strategy.

    If adopted as a tagline, “We know where you live” could still be in place. A working claim and a working strategy. And strategies rule the tactical world.

    One day I’ll tell you about my other Newsday idea to shut down the Long Island Expressway and throw the world’s biggest block party.




    Google and Carbon Footprints.


    On its homepage today Google promotes it is Carbon Neutral since 2007.  I believe Google. But I also Googled “Google’s carbon footprint.” The result?

    “Google unleashed 12,529,953 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2019. That’s roughly equivalent to more than 2.73 million passenger vehicles’ pollution in a year.

    That’s a lot of nasty gas. The fact the company has been carbon neutral since 2007 doesn’t mean they aren’t releasing CO2, it just means they are buying carbon offsets to minimize their CO2 pollution until they can meet their 2030 goal, stated as “We’re decarbonizing our energy consumption so that by 2030, we’ll operate on carbon-free energy, everywhere, 24/7.”

    Being carbon neutral or, better yet, zero carbon is the goal of planetary health. Google gets that. But their server farms are causing greenhouse gases like few others. The good news is they want to fix it. Buying carbon offsets until such a time as they can actually power their farms with renewable energy is laudable. But for the next 8ish years, it’s still a spew-fest. And the globe is warming.  I would not be surprised to see parent company Alphabet get into the energy business. If they are listening, a topic for another day, I suggest they use the next 8 years researching and developing renewables. It’s a better near-term mission than colonizing Mars.




    Bullies and Bears.


    Bullies do not understand sanctions.  They understand punishment. That’s a problem.

    As the loss of life begins today with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many are looking for ways out of the conflagration. I don’t remember the invasion of Georgia. And the Crimean invasion, though only a few years ago, was not a huge global/national news event. This invasion, though, has been orchestrated for maximum visibility by Putin from the beginning.

    America is trying not to be a bully.  But it’s hard watching Ukrainian dads going off to war putting their crying kids on buses. Publicizing the human toll via social media – bringing the drama home, is something Putin relishes. It causes chaos. And it destabilizes an already divisive political environment here in the U.S.  

    The non-Russian world is talking sanctions. The non-Russian world is not good at punishment.  Not until things are over.

    I am no hawk. The U.S. is not the world’s policeman. But the U.S. is the world’s beacon of freedom. And that means we are free to punish predators. We can build consensus or we can build consensus while brandishing a stick.  Putin is betting on our consensus-building. He is evil. He is unhinged. But strategically he is sound and he’s playing us. Remember the Syrian redline?

    Putin has a focused offensive strategy. It gets stronger by the minute. The U.S. and Allies strategy is deterrence and therefore tied to others’ actions. We are unfocused. Until we focus we will continue to backpedal.  I’m not saying send in troops. Or strafe Moscow.  But as we say in Asheville “bears will continue to feed until deterred.” We need some savvy offense.  

    Peace… and I mean it today in a very different way.

    Brand Strategy IS Business Strategy.


    A recent Ad Age article on Jonny Bauer, global head of brand strategy and transformation at Blackstone a huge private equity firm, was quoted as saying:

     “We don’t think of a brand as your identity or your name,” Instead, a brand is really the product of strategy and purpose “to define the existence of why this company exists.”

    While I agree with the first part of the statement, I take issue with latter part, it “defines the existence of why the company exists.”

    Mr. Bauer and Blackstone see branding much the way I do, as business strategy. When he is allowed in the C-suite of companies, not just relegated to CMOs, he is learning about all the business factors contributing to success: debt, legal, assets, culture, supply chain and purchase context.  When designing brand strategy, all these things must be accounted for. The brand claim needs to speak to most everything. As must the proof planks (the science groupings supporting the claim.)  This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.

    A lot of people may agree they want “happiness” when they buy a Coke, but they really want “refreshment.” 

    All this talk about brand purpose and brand intention is silly. Those are outcomes of good commercial branding.  If you want to be intentional, go the non-profit route.

    Blackstone and Mr. Bauer get the fact that good branding is the best way to get good marketing. And good marketing (all four Ps) begets good sales. And it starts with strategy. Brand strategy. Tied to business strategy. I deal in customer care-abouts and brand good ats.  Not intentions.






    Implicit versus Explicit Brand Claims.


    I came across this testimonial statement on LinkedIn by cyber security firm Delinea. It was posted by Interbrand, their branding company. The work followed the merger of two companies into one.

    The Interbrand team worked collaboratively with us to crystalize our unique points of differentiation and capture our essence. With their guidance, we built Delinea into a stand-out brand in our industry, with a clear ambition and a purpose that guides our decision making.”  Art Gillilan, CEO, Delinea

    Two quick observations:

    1. I’m not sure I agree brand strategy should encompass “a clear ambition.” When it does it often uses language like “industry leader.” “purpose,” or “intention.” That’s me focused not you focused. Company-centric not consumer-centric. The best brand claims focus on the buyer.
    2. I love that the brand strategy guides company decision-making. Brand strategy must do that. It saves money. Multiplies the value. And creates culture.

    The proof of a good brand strategy however is in the pudding, and this is how the website describes Delinea. I call it the Is-Does.

    Delinea is a Privileged Access Management Leader Providing Seamless Security for Modern, Hybrid Enterprises.

    The only word of value in this statement (to business buyers and security engineers) is seamless. And while the Delinea name suggests seamless (a good thing), I’m not sure as a benefit it hits the mark powerfully enough. Seamless, as a brand claim, implies a benefit. They could have been a quite a bit more explicit in their positioning.




    Brand Strategist as Navel Gazer.


    I have a client who is a savvy, savvy marketer in a high growth business. He really gets my brand strategy framework. His is a complicated business, not easily explained to people outside the technical category.  One of the things this CEO likes about my work is that I do lots of interviews with employees and customers but also outside SMEs (subject matter experts) to help with balance.

    The client takes my rough transcript notes from the employee and customer interviews and scours them, using the verbatims to stay in touch with their feelings about the company. So, while I’m extrapolating and packaging brand strategy, he’s using the notes as a kind of satisfaction research. I suspect the interviews fill in some holes not otherwise found through face-to-face meetings, tech blogs and business presentations.

    (Andy Grove, CEO of Intel way back when, started each day listening to the customer care hotline. It was his way of staying on top of things.)

    I wonder is these interviews of mine may be a more in-demand revenue stream for What’s The Idea? than is “brand strategy.”  Not a lot of C-level executive wake up in the morning saying “I need a brand strategy.” But many wake up wondering what their customers and employees think.




    Is-Does Then Why.


    I’ve written a great deal about a simple but important brand component: the Is-Does.  What a product “is” and what a product “does.”  (For the purposes of this post I’ll use product to also mean service.) Having come into the branding world with a concentration in technology I know that understanding what a product “is” is foundational. Is it hardware? Software? Platform? Or an app?  It may seem simple but sometimes it really takes some digging to get that answer. (Just read a few About page on tech company websites.) What, for instance, Is a video game? Or LinkedIn?

    After the Is is out of the way brand strategists need to establish the “does.” What does the product accomplish for the user.  What is its function. This requires creating context and usage for the product. Is the iPhone a phone for instance? Or a communications device? A recorder of content. All the above? The iPhone broke the mold for the Is-Does and screwed up branding for many technology companies. Swiss Army knife anyone?

    Earlier in the week I was reading a Mike Troiano blog post where he discussed what he believes to be most important brand component, the “why.”

    Can’t argue the “why” is important, but I can disagree with the hierarchy. If you share the Why but not the Is and the Does, you are wasting a consumer’s gray matter. (I’m talking technology and emerging services here, not mature categories.) There are only a few whys in the marketing world: improved productivity, better price, make money, improve efficiency, more sustainable and more equitable. Without the Is-Does, these end-benefits or whys are just commodities.

    When brand people just straight to the why in their claim they are missing steps, especially in nascent categories. Brand strategy is strengthened by a narrative, as Mike says in his post. Completely agree. But brand strategy is nuts and bolts. It’s measurable and quantifiable.  Narratives and stories on the Why are best left to ad agencies.







    Brand Planner’s Prayer


    Things we remember.

    We remember beauty.

    We remember new.

    We remember rich.

    We remember melody.

    We remember funny.

    We remember nature.

    We remember poetry.

    We remember pain.

    We remember educators.

    We remember warmth.

    We remember charity.

    We remember happy.

    We remember love.

    We remember triumph.

    These are the things we remember.

    (I post this brand planners prayer once a year as a reminder.)