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.




    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.