Resist Templates.


    I hate templates. I love templates. There you have it. Shit ain’t always binary. 

    I built my business around four key tools. The 24 Questions. A Fact Finding questionnaire for brand discovery. A brand/creative brief taken with me from McCann-Erickson, NY. And a marketing communications plan bequeathed me by Mark Pritchard (not the P&G one) who himself took it from Ammirati and Puris.  All are fill-in-the-blank templates.

    That said, it’s what goes on between the ears, using these templates, that makes the money — but a man has to start somewhere.

    I tried to build another business ( doing the opposite: allowing online users to build websites without templates. My heart was in the right place but it didn’t work. Facebook used databases and a template in the background to kick our ass.  You have to pick the right battles.

    Templates are what humans want. It’s how they organize and get started. Even a musician creating music must have a template in his/her head. A template of something.

    If you ask me, templates are diminishing creativity. And as our heads and machines are getting more and more filled with data, we must resort to templates for order.  Resist. Invent. Resist. Invent.  This is how we get to better work. This is how we get to more artful work.



    When is Bias Positive?


    A friend and early mentor of mine, Eric Keshin, used to talk about creating “bias” for a product or service.  Bias has a bit of a negative connotation today but as a strategy in branding it is spot on.  One can attempt to position a competitor by denigrating them, creating a negative bias — or, stay closer to home, and elevate one’s own product, creating a positive bias.

    Done well one can accomplish both.  That is, focus on elevating your brand and by inference diminish the competition. Don’t spend time talking about your competition, but attempt to find a perceived weak spot and play to it. Burger King did this so well with Flame Broiled. Everyone knows McDonalds grills. Coors did it with mountain fresh water. Everyone knows Budweiser and Miller aren’t brewed in the mountains.

    Finding ways to create positive bias toward your product or service is the primary job of the brand planner.

    C’est fini.




    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.

    These are the things consumers remember.

    (I post this brand planner’s prayer once a year…as a reminder.)

    Coty’s Latest Marketing Bet.


    Coty Inc. has not been doing very well of late. It’s stock is down 66% according to the NYT. Coty just announced buying a 20% stake in Kim Kardashian West’s cosmetics company. In January, it purchased a chunk of Kardashian’s half-sister Kylie Jenner’s cosmetics company. Seems they are smitten with the beautiful, broadcast and social media stars.

    Coty, the highly-leveraged owner of Max Factor and Covergirl, has not shown an ability to market with the times and now has decided to “buy, watch and learn.” I worked at McCann during L’Oreal’s heyday and as most brands were churning out TV spots, L’Oreal worked on one spot all year. Brand building was a complete and total art form. “Let’s track down the designer of the dress, Marisa Tomei wore, in___.”

    Today with fast twitch media, cheap digital video and a fickle news cycle, everything is different. Looks like Coty has thrown in the towel and plans to learn from the entertainment industry. Progress?

    Advertising and branding have always been part art and part science. If Coty can extract the science from the success of the Kardashian/Jenner ventures, hopefully it can recapture some of the art. 




    Fuel For Advocates.


    Yesterday I discussed the importance of advocates as a target in your brand strategy. An advocate being someone who is a user of your brand, who loves your brand, and most importantly, who tells friends and acquaintances about your brand.

    I empahcized the importance of giving advocates “fuel” for their work. Fuel being evidence of brand superiority. Or as I like to call it proof. But proof needs to be refreshed to keep advocates excited.

    (A quick refresher: at What’s The Idea? the brand strategy framework comprises “one claim and three proof planks.” Unsupported claims are hard to convey convincingly.)

    The job of the brand strategist is to keep the proofs coming. Brand strategists and brand managers search for proof as miners search for gold. Painstakelingly. And refreshed proofs keep brands vibrant.

    As we brand plan claim and proofs across our many targets, let’s not forget our most valuable target: the advocate. He/she/him/her/them/those are special and should move to the front of the line.

    Right Cindy Gallop?






    The companies with the biggest need for brand strategy are service industry companies with complicated stories. Companies that do multiple things. An acquaintance shared his new business card recently and it said his businesses were: HR Consulting, Outsourcing, Training and Coaching. A previous business card added a number of other areas of operations.

    Here’s what their website says:

    A brand strategy is defined as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. It simplifies and governs how you operate and what consumers expect of you. But first consumers must know what you do. As the example shows, some service companies have a hard time with this. So rather than boil down what they do into a digestible description they provide a long list. Or just add the word “services” which acts as a catch-all. Not helpful, trust me.

    Step one in branding is to get the Is-Does right. What a brand Is and what a brand Does. And step one of the Is-Does is getting Is right.

    Can you say what your company Is in a word or two? (Mine is a brand consultancy.) Send your Is to for an eval.



    The Yoda Route.


    In brand planning there’s discovery and there’s discovery. (Discovery defined as the legwork and research that precedes crafting the brand strategy.) At What’s The Idea?, I use personal interviews with C-level executive, customers, subject matter experts and influencers as well as primary and secondary research, trade shows, user’s groups and any other meetings where buyers and sellers convene.

    I’ve built the economics of my engagements so that I can deliver a brand strategy in a month’s time for a fair and equitable fee. Problem is, not all of my clients are able to pay the full freight. And sometime I’ve been known to take on pro bono work. That’s when things have to get creative.

    If I must shortcut my traditional process I go the Yoda Route. That is, I rely on one really smart person for all my input; usually the founder or owner. They provide all the grist for the insight mill. It can be dangerous to use only one source — one Yoda — but it can work. The brand planner’s brain is never really off so after Yoda does her/his information dump you use that to build insights which can be massaged through other shortcut piggyback research and some much needed internal combustion. Yesterday I wrote “The only truly bad research is research that misleads,” and going the Yoda Route can mislead. Be careful. Be very, very careful.



    Google Announces a Poorly Chosen Brand Name.


    Google Meet, a multipoint videoconferencing service available to paid Google Suite customers, announced today it will become a free service as early as next week. Zoom, which is killing it as a business and consumer videoconferencing tool, has had some security problems of late and Google Meet is hoping to capitalize.

    Google Hangouts still exists though Meet will support up to 100 participants (for free) and offer lots of bells and whistles unavailable to Hangout users.

    Hangout was a nice brand name. Paired with master brand Google, it offered a great Is-Does. Meet offers a great Is-Does but doesn’t verb well. Zoom has become a de facto videoconferencing verb – “Want to do a Zoom later today?” Verbing is a key in branding.

    Google had an opportunity to verb-alize this brand name, but chose a redundant and too generic option. If one asks you to participate in a Google Meet that will make sense but we know people like to shortcut and drop master brands and that will make the name confusing.

    I love a good Is-Does, especially for younger less established companies. Google is neither and could have pushed the name a little further. And, of course, there’s something to be said for a little originality. Google missed a big opportunity here.





    The saying “What’s the worst that could happen?” is often said by people up against modest problems. You never hear families dealing with cancer say this. You never hear the question posed to someone on the brink of financial ruin. Or generals on the battlefield. It’s said by everyday people with first world problems.

    Well, welcome to the coronavirus world. This once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic has eviscerated daily life and commerce in ways rational people never expected. It has created heroes out of ne’er-do wells. It has exposed leaders as pleaders. It has turned preening entrepreneurs to sand.

    We are so much more than money. We are Americans. Born of grit. And comity. Our heritage is as pioneers, not bougie idlers and finger pointers. We are scientists and helpers. At our best we are selfless and empathetic.

    In the business world and in life, those who come out of this crisis alive, or in many cases dead, as “givers” rather than “takers,” will set the table for the future. Money is not the litmus of success, humanity is. And sometimes humanity means making difficult decisions. But for the good of the tribe.

    As one of my heroes Eddie Vedder likes to say “I am a patriot.” Patriots will win out when this is over. Not those political nabobs or sign swinging, USA chanting folks. I’m talking about Americans who actually helped their way out of a crisis. With no agenda other than lifting up a brother and a sister.

    That’s patriotism.




    Design. Brand Strategy. And Metrics.


    I guess you can call a brand strategist a designer. Albeit one whose job does not include art outputs. Say the word designer and art director comes to mind. Logo creators. Environment designers. Certainly not someone who writes briefs, turned into documents, intended to drive marketing strategy. But give a designer an assignment without a brief and they’re left to their own devices as to what to create. Staring at a white piece of paper or screen doesn’t scare a designer. It’s freeing. But without a strategic goal, who decides if the work is good? Who decides if the work if business-building. The most common metric for design success is “likeability.” A distance second might be “communication value.” The holy grail, on the other hand, is brand claim and proof planks – the result of brand strategy.

    Brand strategy in more cases than not offers marketers a qualitative metric; the client approves the logic, understands how it will help build business, but then gets lost in the weeds of approving deliverables/contents. Done right brand strategy should have quantitative metrics. It’s rare. And it’s a shame.

    Return On Brand Strategy, as illusive a concept as it is, drives business at What’s The Idea? For a chat about brand strategy metrics, hit me at Steve@WhatsTheIdea. And be prepared to put on your seatbelt.