First Get The Brand Right.


    Here’s my pitch to people who manage small and mid-size companies. Also, to large companies in technology, considered purchase and B2B categories – most of whom think marketing is the main tool of growth. Marketing being defined as creating demand, proper pricing and good distribution.  I explain that marketing today is mostly practiced as a downstream pursuit with time spent on buildables. On tactics and execution. “Update the website. Generate more social engagement. Put on a promotional event.”

    I counsel these people, these builders, to first get the brand strategy right. First and foremost.  Because the brand strategy sets the parameters of winning in the marketplace. It establishes a framework for product, experience and messaging. The irony of my job is that I often have to look and product, experience and messaging, after the fact, to help create the framework.  It’s a little bass-ackwards.

    Get the brand right and it’s so much easier to get the marketing right.  “Ready, fire, aim” it’s not.






    Yesterday I watched a recording of the Cannes presentation by Rob Campbell and Martin Weigel on “Chaos.”  It was lovely and refreshing. Smart men, both. During the Q&A someone asked “Isn’t chaos a lot like disruption?” Indignantly, Rob said “No.” very different, he offered  

    I’m with Rob, sort of; disruption is so overused. It’s a pop marketing term to which all aspire.  Overall though, I’m not so sure I heard how chaos is that much different when it comes to heightening creativity than are many of the other pop marketing memes planners and creatives have bandied about for years.  Chaos is just a new word for it.

    The big news, as I heard it, was a call for increased focus on people (not consumers) and getting out of the building — rather than relying solely on data. And frankly, getting out of the building is not that new.

    Chaos in practice is recombinant culture, as Faris Yakob might say. Chaos is the mistake that invented Post-It Notes. Chaos is a bird song inspiring “Stairway To Heaven” (I made that up). Chaos it the synapses, synapsing. It’s the irony of disorganization.

    I agree with all things said by Messrs. Campbell and Weigel. Be it chaos or some other descriptor. We need to think more creatively about how we think creatively. The clarion call to action they espouse is needed today.

    Where I will take issue, however, is the notion of creating chaos in a complete vacuum. Brand building requires that chaotic outputs operate in conjunction with brand strategy. Rob and Martin may not agree. Then again….



    The Branding Supply Chain.


    The branding supply chain is not a thing, but it should be. A supply chain is a chain of custody of manufactured elements that go into a finished product. In electronics, it’s not abnormal for a component to ship across the ocean three or four times before finding its way into Best Buy.  The comms chip is made in the U.S., sent to China to be put onto a circuit board, sent back to Mexico to be assembled into TV guts before being shipped back to Asia for its screen or glass.  Then onto a huge ship to cross the Pacific in 2 weeks.

    In branding, the supply chain can be similarly messy. First a brand strategy is created (hopefully). Then it’s approved by the CEO and C-suite. The marketing department (often in flux) internalizes the brand brief and puts their own imprimaturs on it. Bring on the vendors. The web people turn it into a home page. The user experience leads finesse it into a lovely journey. The search people seek out clicks. The ad agency develops a campaign. HR massages it into the welcome packet for new employees – 18 months in the making.  And frankly, few of the aforementioned have really read the brand brief. And those who have are probably the department heads, not the workers.

    By the time all the work is assembled by hands inside and outside the company, the words and images have traveled over too many oceans. Then the new chief marketing officer comes in (every 18 months) and says, “So, what’s our brand message?”

    Tighten up!



    Brand Planners Are Not In The Ad and Sign Business.


    Ask a SMB (small or mid-size business) owner “What do you want consumers to think or feel about your product as a result of using it?”  Brand-centric marketers might call this the “net take-away.”  The usual answer will be some contorted, ramble of about 45 seconds, with an occasional heavenward look and a smile. If a brand planner asks the question the smile is apt to be more self-conscious.

    The point of the exercise is to see if the product’s value proposition is refined. Not raw. Not piecemeal. Not at all fickle.

    If a business owner can’t settle on a good description of his/her business or product, then that owner needs a brand assist.  If they can’t agree on a fairly static brand value statement, something is not fully baked. And usually it’s not the product, it’s the owner.

    It is the job of the brand planner to extract the brand value statement that gives comfort to the business owner. One that through a claim and proof array, creates an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.

    Some think brand strategy is not product strategy. It is. Many are not aware that brand strategy is about the retail or service experience. It is. Yet everyone will agree messaging is the brand strategy reason-for-being. And it’s this latter, singular view that most hurts brands. Brands planners are not in the advertising and sign business.

    McPeace. (Not autofill for make peace.)






    Brand Glossary


    I started my first big boy job at a top advertising agency in NYC, McCann-Erickson. Working on AT&T. While most of the team was handling TV work and producing print ads for The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Time Magazine, I was hired to do the technical products: data lines, network management and software defined networks. I was the B2B guy, which suited me. It’s from whence I came. But AT&T and McCann were the real deal and I was scrambling.

    At my first meeting in Bridgewater, NJ, I became inundated with acronyms and telecom terms I’d never heard before.  It was like moving to the Ukraine.  My head spun.  I had to quickly invent a game plan in the pre-internet era.  Laptops were few and far between. First step was to create an acronym glossary. One based upon AT&T jargon. When complete the glossary was probably 20 pages long filled with paragraphs of arcane descriptions. I brought that baby with me everywhere. As my team grew, it became a shared resource.

    When the Bell Labs and AT&T marketing people saw me with my glossary they giggled but appreciated that I cared. I asked lots of questions; they never held back.

    I write a lot about learning the language of the target. In account or project management, learning the language of the client is the first step. Only then can you translate that into the consumer dialect.



    Rage Against The Alphabet.


    Google has built its enormous search business by creating “ads that are helpful.” The advertising industry, on the other hand, creates ads meant to sell. One business is shrinking, the other growing. Many consumers would agree they prefer to be helped rather than sold.

    If you add machine learning to Google’s laser focus on marketing as evidenced at yesterday’s Google Marketing Live Conference, you might place career bets on Google rather than Droga 5 or RGA. But wait!

    At the nexus of “helping” and “selling” is brand planning. Advertising agents more often than not sell. Clients make them. But advertising agencies, both digital and traditional, guided by proper brand strategy can’t avoid being helpful — because a brand strategy is built upon customer care-abouts. (Balanced by brand good-ats.) With a brand strategy as your guide, the advertising work can’t help but be helpful. It’s hard to be self-serving when being helpful.

    So let’s all learn from Google and capture the essence of helpfulness, then wrap it in powerful product and consumer insights and beat the machine. Zack de la Rocha had it right.




    Free Briefs


    I’ve run a few promotions over the years and the most popular has been the “Free Day of Planning.” 

    Promotions are typically used on new products to promote trial.  I have been in Asheville, NC for a year and a half and have yet to pick up any paying clients, so it’s time to break out the big promotional guns.

    Last night while attending the Asheville Design Salon it came to me that in this market (and most markets) most people don’t wake up saying “Damn, I need a brand strategy.” They need customers, a website, and certainly logos and design work – but an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging, not so much.

    Existentially, what is a brand strategy?  It’s a brief – a piece of paper with a positioning idea, based on customer care-abouts and brand good-ats.  So today I am offering all businesses in Ashville and the surrounding towns a free brief. (I’d insert nomenclature here about limited time offer and first-come-first served, but don’t think it necessary.)

    Caveat: I will not be able to go crazy deep on your brand, but way more than deep enough to open eyes. Deep enough to help prioritize values. And focus. And to an extent, to wrap it all up in a little poetry.

    So have at it Asheville. Write and order up your free brief.  


    Health Care Branding Writ Large.


    Here’s a little naming and branding exercise.  There are three names for pretty much the same topical healthcare idea — all concerning extending healthcare for all Americans. 

    The Affordable Care Act
    Medicare for All

    Leave a comment as to which is the best sobriquet or brand.

    The Affordable Care Act, was clearly a corporate-type construct.  It is an “act” which means it’s government-approved. It’s “affordable,” in name, so it’s consumer-approved, albeit marketed. And contextually it’s about care.  

    Then there’s Obamacare.  It’s fun, but reverential and politicized.  On one side to the aisle today, it’s demonized…a magnet for associations shared by nattering nabobs of negativity. Lovers of the law mostly like the name. Certainly they like their namesake president.

    Lastly, we have Medicare for all. Nice. Who doesn’t like Medicare?  It’s sing-songy (All for one, one for all). It’s inclusive. And most importantly it’s easy to understand. People know what Medicare is and they know who “all” are.

    People who actually understand what the Affordable Care Act is – an incentivized illness prevention program – see it’s upside and pitfalls, with an emphasis on the former.  But consumers primarily see a name. 

    The power of the Medicare for All brand is so great that the opposition had to come up with a counter name.  And they have done a pretty good job, “Socialized Medicine.” 

    Brand builders are getting smarter in healthcare.  It’s a thing.










    Slow Your Brand Strategy Roll.


    I was talking to neighbor and friend Dan the other day and he shared a little story about his time as a tyro actor. A strapping man, Dan was often asked to do the fight and murder scenes in Shakespeare plays.  The key to doing fights on stage, he offered, was to slow things down by a third. That is, fight but fight at 66% of the normal speed and amplitude.  It’s a hard skill to learn.  In one instance, a pre-teen actor was asked to hamstring Dan’s character and no amount of practice could get this dervish to hit 66%. Hence no one in the audience could tell what happened.

    Brand planners and brand strategists, must treat brand building similarly. Slow it down. Make big, grand gestures. Be obvious. That’s how we make strategy clear. That’s how we prove our strategy. Quick feet, fast pivots, hyperactive tactics may be seen but are realty understood.

    Brand building takes time.  Patience.  Our goal is to engineer preference and you don’t do that in fast twitch mode.

    I’m a huge fan of social and fast twitch media.  (Google “Twitch Point Planning.”)  But it has a way of being overly frenetic and reactive. It’s shiny. If improperly deployed (an off strategy) it can make withdrawals from the brand bank, not deposits.