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.



    The Yoda Route.


    In brand planning there’s discovery and there’s discovery. (Discovery defined as the legwork and research that precedes crafting the brand strategy.) At What’s The Idea?, I use personal interviews with C-level executive, customers, subject matter experts and influencers as well as primary and secondary research, trade shows, user’s groups and any other meetings where buyers and sellers convene.

    I’ve built the economics of my engagements so that I can deliver a brand strategy in a month’s time for a fair and equitable fee. Problem is, not all of my clients are able to pay the full freight. And sometime I’ve been known to take on pro bono work. That’s when things have to get creative.

    If I must shortcut my traditional process I go the Yoda Route. That is, I rely on one really smart person for all my input; usually the founder or owner. They provide all the grist for the insight mill. It can be dangerous to use only one source — one Yoda — but it can work. The brand planner’s brain is never really off so after Yoda does her/his information dump you use that to build insights which can be massaged through other shortcut piggyback research and some much needed internal combustion. Yesterday I wrote “The only truly bad research is research that misleads,” and going the Yoda Route can mislead. Be careful. Be very, very careful.



    Google Announces a Poorly Chosen Brand Name.


    Google Meet, a multipoint videoconferencing service available to paid Google Suite customers, announced today it will become a free service as early as next week. Zoom, which is killing it as a business and consumer videoconferencing tool, has had some security problems of late and Google Meet is hoping to capitalize.

    Google Hangouts still exists though Meet will support up to 100 participants (for free) and offer lots of bells and whistles unavailable to Hangout users.

    Hangout was a nice brand name. Paired with master brand Google, it offered a great Is-Does. Meet offers a great Is-Does but doesn’t verb well. Zoom has become a de facto videoconferencing verb – “Want to do a Zoom later today?” Verbing is a key in branding.

    Google had an opportunity to verb-alize this brand name, but chose a redundant and too generic option. If one asks you to participate in a Google Meet that will make sense but we know people like to shortcut and drop master brands and that will make the name confusing.

    I love a good Is-Does, especially for younger less established companies. Google is neither and could have pushed the name a little further. And, of course, there’s something to be said for a little originality. Google missed a big opportunity here.





    The saying “What’s the worst that could happen?” is often said by people up against modest problems. You never hear families dealing with cancer say this. You never hear the question posed to someone on the brink of financial ruin. Or generals on the battlefield. It’s said by everyday people with first world problems.

    Well, welcome to the coronavirus world. This once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic has eviscerated daily life and commerce in ways rational people never expected. It has created heroes out of ne’er-do wells. It has exposed leaders as pleaders. It has turned preening entrepreneurs to sand.

    We are so much more than money. We are Americans. Born of grit. And comity. Our heritage is as pioneers, not bougie idlers and finger pointers. We are scientists and helpers. At our best we are selfless and empathetic.

    In the business world and in life, those who come out of this crisis alive, or in many cases dead, as “givers” rather than “takers,” will set the table for the future. Money is not the litmus of success, humanity is. And sometimes humanity means making difficult decisions. But for the good of the tribe.

    As one of my heroes Eddie Vedder likes to say “I am a patriot.” Patriots will win out when this is over. Not those political nabobs or sign swinging, USA chanting folks. I’m talking about Americans who actually helped their way out of a crisis. With no agenda other than lifting up a brother and a sister.

    That’s patriotism.




    Design. Brand Strategy. And Metrics.


    I guess you can call a brand strategist a designer. Albeit one whose job does not include art outputs. Say the word designer and art director comes to mind. Logo creators. Environment designers. Certainly not someone who writes briefs, turned into documents, intended to drive marketing strategy. But give a designer an assignment without a brief and they’re left to their own devices as to what to create. Staring at a white piece of paper or screen doesn’t scare a designer. It’s freeing. But without a strategic goal, who decides if the work is good? Who decides if the work if business-building. The most common metric for design success is “likeability.” A distance second might be “communication value.” The holy grail, on the other hand, is brand claim and proof planks – the result of brand strategy.

    Brand strategy in more cases than not offers marketers a qualitative metric; the client approves the logic, understands how it will help build business, but then gets lost in the weeds of approving deliverables/contents. Done right brand strategy should have quantitative metrics. It’s rare. And it’s a shame.

    Return On Brand Strategy, as illusive a concept as it is, drives business at What’s The Idea? For a chat about brand strategy metrics, hit me at Steve@WhatsTheIdea. And be prepared to put on your seatbelt.



    Brand Architecture Is For Babies.


    The other day I wrote about marko-babble, the effluvial language in branding and marketing that makes our craft less finite and more interpretive. Head on, I’m going to share a few marko-babble terms you won’t hear from an engagement with What’s The Idea?

    You will not hear about brand hierarchy. If it’s critical to brand success or customer success, it’s included in the framework (one claim, three proof planks.)

    You will not hear about brand architecture. At What’s The Idea? there is only an organizing principle. One that allow for consumer and market change. Architecture suggests structure whereas an organizing principle allows for fluidity of components. Don’t get me wrong, the organizing principle is binary (you are either off or on strategy) but it’s not immovably static.

    You will not hear about brand voice. We are a polyglot world with polyglot consumers.

    We will not talk of brand platform. See organizing principle.

    And there will be no talk of brand narratives. Or brand story. Stories get old. Jokes get old. Yes, some stories have morals and been shared over the generations. What sticks is up to the buyer, not the seller.

    There will be no discussion of brand passion, only dispassionate product and consumer insights. Passion is in the eye of the beholder.

    What you will hear.

    You will be encouraged to do research, both qual and quant. There will be constant and unbridled learning. It will become a virus — waking you up at night. You will always be on in search of new demonstrations of the brand claim, fitted to the proof planks.

    Also, you will be asked to think with an interdisciplinary worldview. Where all parts work within the organizing principle. (In the ad business, I recall sometimes how hard it was to develop a radio spot to work seamlessly with a TV spot.) Campaigns rarely translate. An organizing principle translates.

    Some guidelines for brand success, brought to you sans marko-babble.





    Marko-babble from Sterling Brands.


    Over the weekend I was cruising the web and came across a company I used to drive past daily in Garden City, NY. The building was a dirty tan and was probably nicely designed in the 70s or 80s – spherical corners and angles as I recall. The sign read Sterling Brands. The latter word caught my attention being a brand guy. But for the live of me I couldn’t tell what the brands were. Not from the sign on the outside of the building. CIA?

    When I came across the brand on the web, I looked them up on my phone. For some reason, my Pixel 3 showed a bunch of flash-like type animations and no pictures of the brands. Today I checked again and this time the pictures resolved. Sterling owns Stoli and Krispy Kreme.

    Over the weekend, however, not knowing the brands in the portfolio I read the website copy and was completely lost. It was one of the poorest assemblage of marko-babble I’d ever read. It’s why I coined the term marko-babble. Read on:

    Sterling Brands

    In today’s world culture shifts at the speed of a scroll, tap or        tweet.

    We design human brands that are human-centric, relevant           and responsive.

    Brands that inspire people to think, feel and engage.

    We design living brands.

    Got that? Sterling, which, if memory serves, used to sell knives and kitchenware, now designs brands for people. (And actually, Krispy Kreme and Stoli were not designed by Sterling anyway, they were purchased by Sterling.)

    Here’s my point. Just as I couldn’t tell what Sterling did from the sign on the building, I had no idea what they company did from the web copy – sans pictures. The copy had not a lick of endemic category explanation. Okay, they are made for people. (When robots take over they may have to change the copy.)

    Please, please please… everybody stop writing senseless marketing poetry. Stop the brand effluvia. People want to know what the product is. What the product does. What makes it different. And what makes it better.

    Stoli and Krispy Kreme deserve better from their holding company.

    Peace and health.



    Earth Fare.


    Earth Fare is emerging from Chapter 11 hell with a new ownership org and what hopes to be a bright future. Earth Fare began in Asheville, NC and it will rise from the ashes in Asheville. When it opened, it was branded “Dinner for the Earth.” The current name is head and shoulders better than the original, which to me suggests the earth will eat up the population and return us all to soil. Technically, that isn’t wrong, it’s just not a great brand building strategy.

    (The earth has been a hungry place lately, thanks to Coronavirus, and we’ve all been fighting like crazy to remain on it — not in it.)

    Asheville has a reputation as a crunchy town. We love sustainability, recycling, charity and brother/sister love. In branding? Ahhhh….sometimes we could use a little help. And branding starts with naming. One of my brand strategy discovery questions is “How did the brand get it’s name? And why?”

    I wish Earth Fare all the best. The founding fathers’ hearts were in the right place. But maybe they were a couple of doobies too far down the road the night they picked the original name. Hee hee. Much love.