Thoughts on Brand Claims and Taglines.


    One of the things I learned as a young-un working at ad agencies was that it was poor form for an account person (project manager/business manager) to offer up creative ideas to creatives. Agencies, have evolved to be somewhat more inclusive these days, but I’m sure it’s still a thing. Anyway, at my brand strategy practice, whenever I present a brand claim to a client, I go out of my way to explain the claim is not a tagline or a piece of creative. It’s just the main, operative strategy statement.

    Yesterday, while hiking, I was thinking about some of my past brand strategy claims – claim being only one quarter of the brand strategy — proofs planks being the other three quarters.  And while looking for snakes and cogitating over past claims I realized something:  The claim is very much the brand strategy while the tagline or creative is the result (or output) of the claim.

    For instance, North Shore-LIJ Health System’s (now Northwell Health) claim was “A systematized approach to improving health.” The result of that claim or tagline was “Setting New Standards in Health Care.”  For web startup Zude, the claim was “The fastest, easiest was to build a website.”  The results was tagline “Feel Free.”

    The creative people (Fergus O’Daly, Pat Peduto, etc.) have been right all along. Taking something prosaic and delivering it with humanity and emotion is the smartest approach.  That said, campaigns (and taglines) come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.


    Is-Does In The House.


    Every once-in-a-while when reviewing Google Analytics I come across one of my blog posts someone clicked on…and I like to read it just to see where my head was at. 

    In one such, I uncovered this descriptor sentence “I run an evidence-based brand planning shop.” Over the years, there have been many ways I described What’s The Idea? but this may be one of the best. From an inside baseball standpoint, it points to my claim and proof framework, a unique differentiator. And while claim and proof are not overly complicated words they do require a bit of explanation.  

    The words “brand planning shop” don’t say brand strategy but imply it. And, of course, “evidence-based” centers the narrative around science, not marketing ephemera. Not marko-babble.

    I need to start using this meme-able phrase in my self-marketing more. When I speak about a brand Is-Does, what a brand Is and what a brand Does, evidence-based brand planning shop gets me close.



    Action Vs. Purchase.


    Yesterday’s post referred to a Neil Parker article in Inc. Magazine, a thought piece on brand as verb.  As much as I agree with Neil’s points, one did hit a sour note for me. He wrote “Ask yourself how your brand can create moments that compel people to contribute rather than persuading them to purchase.”  

    I am old-school, but for me all actions must be about moving a customer closer to sale. Marketers and brand builders are in the business of selling not “compelling people to contribute.” Commenting on a website or issue-related actions are secondary to sales — at least for me.  They are good-to-haves and it will happen organically, but they are not the main job of the marketing dept. There are other departments for that. Corporate responsibility, for one. Public relations for another.

    Lots of smart advertising, marketing and branding people out there agree “doing” is better than “feeling.” I’m down. But actions that don’t ultimately contribute to sales eat up oxygen. Be careful.




    Product Insight Tool.


    Have  you ever written an obituary?  If you have, it’s probably been for a family member. (Unless you have a father in the business who got his PR friend to take it on.) I did one for my mom and it was not a very good piece of writing. I was on a word count and it was, therefore, very informational.  Obituaries are an interesting form of writing. The NY Times does an amazing job with theirs.

    One tool the research department at McCann-Erickson-NY used in focus groups was to have participants write an obit for a product. It encouraged participants to break out some creative muscle. But mainly it found them writing about product high and low points along with some personal stories and feelings. People tend to be nice in obits and that’s part of the appeal of the tool. Of course, the focus group moderator could simply ask open-ended “like” and “dislike” questions but an obit also forced writers to imagine a product’s demise and why.  

    A neat tool and trick. Insights can come from everywhere. It’s worth pushing the limits sometime.



    New Proofs Daily.


    Yesterday I wrote that the “proofs” from my brand strategy framework are like results in the OKR (Objective and Key Results) school of management. See post here. Claim and proof are my thing; it’s what makes What’s The Idea? different from all the other brand strategy shops.

    Proofs are evidence. Tangible things that explain a brand claim.

    Proof helps me reverse engineer the claim. But it assumes the business has been around a while. You can’t really be a start-up. Ish. During discovery, mining proof to determine the key claim of a product is a backward-looking pursuit. Yet the beauty of this approach is, once configured, the strategy looks forward. It helps in decision making and productizing for the future. Why? Because the claim and proof array is alive. And it is the day job of the brand manager (and every other employee) is to invent new proofs to support the claim. Daily.

    Lots of brand planners are rearview mirror planners. It’s best to also look beyond the dashboard. And encourage every stakeholder to do the same.

    It’s a total branding approach.




    Negative Brand Brief.


    For me, part of the brand planning experience is finding love for the brand. Because ultimately that is what we are building: a facilitation for consumers to fall in love with our brands. From the product itself to the experience of the product and, importantly, mentions or discussions of same.

    Finding things to truly love isn’t easy. Everyone loves differently.

    But lately I’ve been thinking these rose-colored glasses we must put on are a fraction of the total picture we see. And in these divisive times, while quick to smirk at political opponents and their POVs — even as the grown up in me says try to see what they see — perhaps it’s smart to brand plan with a more open mind. Maybe it’s time to write a reverse brief.  Filled with all the reasons a person may not like my product. As an exercise.

    We aren’t hippies after all. This is a real world.  And even though my job is to find the love, my job is also to help brands succeed. And successful marketing is not a commodity, no matter what Google AdWords will have you think.

    Next time I finish a brand brief, it’s a quick negative brief.

    And I’ll report the results.





    Ana Andjelic wrote this about brand valuation in her newsletter The Sociology of Business:

    Brands build awareness for a company beyond its target audience, hopefully propelling it in the domain of culture and increasing its chances to be part of the consumers’ initial consideration set. Through its brand promise and brand values, a company can reach customers who ordinarily wouldn’t consider its products.

    She was talking about expanding the size of the addressable market.

    Truer words about brands have rarely been spoken.  An indelible brand strategy sees all targets, current and future and attempts to corral value that appeals to them all. Discussions getting into culture are a bit haughty, if you ask me, but I get it. We play in culture. Inform using culture, but I’m not so sure we make culture. Society and communities make culture. Geography makes culture. Not language. Not product design.  Anyway, it’s not worth the quibble.

    Peter Kim a mentor of mine at McCann-Erickson talked about outlining and understanding all the different targets that will come into contact with your brand. Looking at each target individually then culling to find common values (or care-abouts) concerning the brand. He suggested take all these different targets and “remassify” them. Into one. Finding a shared higher-order value.

    Dangerous? Might it omit some more potent value? Yes.  But will it speak to more people in simpler language? Yes. Language that builds a brand appreciated by more targets. 

    Tink about it, as my Norwegian aunt used to say.




    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 in January as a reminder.)

    Offense Defense.


    This is going to be a short post. 

    Strategy is offense.

    Using dashboard metrics to power your marketing is defense.




    Brand Strategy Trifecta.


    There are many things to love about being a brand strategist. But if pushed to highlight best, I’d have to say it is the learning.  Learning the product, the category and the consuming behaviors of the market. 

    I start many meetings with customers and prospects explaining I’m a simple man.  I strive for simple solutions that are easily understood. Complexity is what ruins most branding efforts.  Complexity supports multiple values. Complexity makes it harder to create order. Complexity makes it harder for decision-makers to lock down on order. Simple order is what consumers crave when making brand decisions.

    What I like to think I’m good at is creating compelling order. Prioritizing customer care-abouts and brand good-ats into three reasons-to-buy is part of my framework. But finding those 3 reasons or values that are most compelling is the secret sauce.

    I love learning and creating compelling order. The things are inextricably tied. Learning by itself doesn’t work. Creating Order by itself doesn’t work. Compelling by itself doesn’t work. The trifecta is built upon all three.