Offense Defense.


    Post-dispose. Is that even a word?


    Years ago while working at McCann-Erickson NY, I was put on a task force to develop a white paper addressing the topic of “ad spending in support of emerging technologies.” The client was AT&T.  AT&T didn’t mind funding cash cow businesses like business long distance and 800 service but they weren’t really sharp on advertising for its $3B private line (data line) business. 

    During my tenure on the task force I came across a bunch of documents from the 40s and 50s residing at the Center for Advertising Studies, a shared IPG unit serving all sister agencies.  Copy testing was one topic I looked into. In one doc there was a sentence that stuck with me and I still use it to this day: “Copy that predisposes consumers to purchase.”  It’s a nice turn of a phase meaning convince consumers to act. Presumably for the first time.  And isn’t that what advertising and marketing, even ecommerce is all about? So simple.

    But what about loyalty? How to we post-dispose people to continue to keep purchasing? 

    The answer is through brand strategy — a constant, drumbeat of value and reasoning that refreshes consumer preference.  Not to be confused with bludgeoning consumers, as does Geico. Branding is a foil for advertising frequency. It convinces across mediums. It’s more existential. It’s more active and participatory.

    Branding predisposes and post-disposes consumers to act. Get you some!



    Amazon Brand Strategy. A New Claim.


    Yesterday I parsed the Amazon brand strategy explained by Shah Mohammed while offering that the “everything store” was not the most powerful claim Jeff Bezos and team could have made.  It wasn’t bad mind you, but it left some value on the table. Today I promised to come up with a claim that trumped “everything store.”  The key to branding is to set the strategy (like setting a hook) with proof. Or what I call a proof array — three proof planks.

    We discussed yesterday that the three proof planks were extraordinary convenience, comprehensive selection and lower prices.  A claim is best supported when the planks are closely linked to the claim. In harmony with the claim. Assuming these planks are right, and they certainly look right, how might we strengthen the claim?  

    I would look at the word store. Sure, everyone knows what stores are. That’s good. But not everyone has positive associations with stores.  What about a word like bazaar.  It’s a bit more communal, sensory and exotic. A different kind of experience. And Amazon is certainly a different kind of shopping experience.  Bazaars are known for bargaining, so it delivers the low price story. And it hits comprehensive more directly as well.  

    When brand manager are looking to develop programs to further create brand value (and sales), I bet they will have more fertile ground to play on “bazaar” than with “store.”

    Always thinkin’.




    Words Are the Root of All Business.


    When you are in the brand strategy business it’s hard to share your work product. Brand strategy as Mighty Jungle owner Mark Pollard would say “Is your words.”  I refer to brand strategy as an organizing principle, but that principle is words on screen or on paper. 

    Success and failure in branding is tied to adherence to the brand strategy and to the actions and marketing activities generated.  When on-strategy you are likely to have success. Off strategy, it’s a crap shoot. Once I’ve created a brand strategy for a company it’s left to the makers and builders and brand managers to see it through. I don’t make logos. I don’t write print adds. I don’t create a web experience and code.

    So, on my website what do I show?  Process charts? Customer testimonials? Client logos? Case studies?  Other people’s work?  Meaning other communication agencies’ work?  And let’s not forget, in almost all cases I’m under nondisclosure. 

    What do I do to move customers closer to a sale on the web? Well, right now I use words. And more words. For 14 years I’ve blogged about branding. In the fishing world this would be called chumming. I toss branding words into the ether and hope it attracts attention.

    So far it’s worked. Words are the root of all business.



    Brand Strategy and Messaging.


    One of my brand planning memes is the definition of brand strategy: “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” I was working on a readout for a specialty pharmacy company using this definition when it dawned on me that maybe it’s time to subjugate “messaging” by surrounding it with parentheses.

    Even though messaging is what most people are concerned with when thinking about brand strategy, I’m having second thoughts.  It is where a lot of the marketing budget goes, especially for companies with out-sized advertising budgets — but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really secondary to “product” and “experience.” 

    Get the organizing principle right for product and the experience and it’s going to be hard to get the “message” wrong.  And advertising messaging should never, ever be the tail that wags the dog.




    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.