Proof or Poof.


    Kevin Perlmutter, a friend and strategist with Limbic Brand Evolution, a practice focusing on neuromarketing, posted today on LinkedIn about the importance of understanding consumer feelings. And presumably, moving those feelings toward a bias for one’s product.  Good stuff.

    I like to do the same. But readers (all 6 of you, hee hee) know my framework is less about mining feelings and more about mining proof — proof that drives feelings.  

    My brand planning approach is driven by an awareness that marketing and advertising today is “90% claim and 10% proof.”  That is, it tells you what to feel rather than give you the evidence that allows you to feel it. And believe it. That requires proof.  I can say I make the best pizza in Los Angeles, but where’s the proof.

    My rigor for brand planning mines proofs. Demonstrations. Evidence. Existential phenomenon. Sure, I write a brand brief but it is the proof that drives the strategy and the claim.  It’s proof or poof. 

    I’s sure Kevin would agree. Check him out.



    Experience, the Forgotten Branding Tool.


    I define brand strategy as “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” Product is a given and more often than not, reverse engineered into the brand strategy.  Messaging is another given, in that most marketing and advertising budgets are spent there.  The problem I most run into with advertising is it takes on a strategy of its own, independent of brand strategy.  (If there even is a brand strategy.)  Many companies use advertising as their de-facto brand strategy, co-opting the ad campaign tagline as the brand tagline.  Bass-ackwards.

    But it is in the experience where many brand builders fall short.  If you are a singular retail brand, you configure and design the experience around the in-store footprint.  Think LL Bean. Or Starbucks. If you are a business selling to other businesses (B2B), it’s your salespeople who create the experience. And that can often be subjective. Salespeople are chameleons, tailoring the pitch to the customer. In service and professional industries, e.g., doctors, accountants, lawyers, the experience is even more haphazard. Lastly, there is online or ecommerce businesses, where the digital experience is one-dimensional and self-serve.

    So, one third of brand strategy (experience), I’d venture, is underserved. And it’s a big mistake.

    Every brand needs to find a way to connect with their consumers. Much as they would if given the time in a face-to-face relationship. I’m not talking about thank you emails or loyalty points, I’m talking about real interaction. Gifting is nice. A random phone call perhaps. Holiday cards, no thanks. It’s a human thing. Facilitate a human contact. Above and beyond. Think of retailers who knows your name. Or an accountant who emails you when s/he sees an article in the local paper about your kid. Human stuff.  




    Framework Makes the Dream Work.


    Everything you need to know about master brand planning you should learn from your client. This presumes you have a modicum of strategy experience and an idea about what you’re being asked to deliver. In other words, a framework. (I was once asked to create a website but explained the need for a brand strategy as foundation.) Many planners use OPF (other people’s frameworks) and that’s okay.  My brand brief was borrowed from McCann-Erickson. My strategy, a one-pager comprising a claim and proof array, was pilloried, massaged and tightened from a titan of American industry and its consulting company. As Faris Yakob suggests, we are all recombinators.

    Back to my premise.  Once you have figured out your framework, everything you need to learn should come from your brand. Brand Good-ats and Customer Care-abouts. These things are the groundwork for a good strategy – which is a boil down of all that is learned then packaged into the aforementioned clam and proof array.

    If you are interested in this stuff – I kind of nerd out on it — write Steve at WhatsTheIdea for an example or two.




    Imposter Syndrome In Brand Planning


    In brand planning we spend a lot of time thinking. And when you are in a thoughtful, brain-forward business you also tend to think about yourself and your job. A recent discussion in our business is about imposter syndrome. Joey Covington, member of the Jefferson Airplane sang, “Sittin’ around thinking, thinking and a thinking and it didn’t do me so good.” So, my advice to planners is don’t overthink, it can cause consternation.

    Imposter syndrome may be real but it’s not a brand planner thing. Not unless you let it. Imposter syndrome among brand planners happens when you’re boiling down your information and have to make some decisions about the key value and the packaging of that value. “Who am I to make such decisions, you might ask.”  But then you just need to nut-up and commit.

    This hit home for me yesterday when searching “Pearl Jam’s first concert” on YouTube, which actually was Mookie Blaylock’s first concert. (Brand issue.)  Pearl Jam went on stage that first time and committed.  Were they imposters? You tell me. Did they feel like imposters? Maybe. Certainly, some may have.  But look how that turned out. The show was a little rough around the edges but there were some transcendent moments.

    Don’t second guess yourself. Commit. Learn. Correct. Experiment. And love thyself. And if you don’t, get some therapy. Like the rest of the world.



    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.