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.



Brand Strategy Is Not Foreplay.


“How do I write a brand strategy” is search term to avoid. It is a well-intended phrase — one that shows proper marketing thinking and consumer empathy. But the problem keying this question into Google is the outcomes will be all wrong. Small business owners or neophyte marketing people shouldn’t be writing their own brand strategies. Just as psychiatrists shouldn’t attempt to self-diagnose and self-heal.  

It’s hard to objectively view your brand when you are the owner; but, more importantly it’s a misguided errand. Using the web to learn about brand strategy, it’s frameworks and tools is a rabbit hole. Effectively, you are looking for templates to help you with a brand articulation. It’s not effective.

Brand strategy is often seen as foreplay in anticipation of selling large ticket items like logos, names, retail/web experiences and style manuals. The money-makers. Companies that focus on brand strategy and position themselves as experts really want to sell you other things. So they salt the web with goodies and search-ables in order to get your attention. Educating the market on brand strategy with so-called tools only to attract your business.

Don’t try to write your own brand strategy. Don’t search the web for brand strategy tools. Find a company that cares about brand strategy and brand strategy alone — the words and organizing principle.  Seek them out. You’d be surprised at how fast and cost-effective a paper brand strategy can be.



Whither Inspiration?


When brand planning, there is collection mode and production mode. Collection is about research and interviews and consumer insights. The latter should be marketing-centric with a measure of cultural anthropology thrown in. The thing to remember about cultural anthropology is to never insinuate yourself into the equation. Never alter the behavior of the subject you are studying. And by asking questions, you are likely doing that very thing. It’s tricky.

Once collection is done, and frankly, it’s never done, it’s time to start packaging. Time to produce. At What’s The Idea?, I’m lucky enough to have developed a pretty fool-proof framework for brand strategy: One claim, three proof planks. So for me production is about filling those boxes.

I use lots of metaphors for pairing down all the info and learning and putting it into a one claim and 3 proof planks. The Boil Down is one such, where everything goes into a big stock pot and boils away the unimportant. Then there is the wheat and chaff metaphor and the cull rack metaphor. But really, inspiration for the claim and proof array is cerebral. The claim has to be right. Inclusive. Inspiring. Memorable. And the proofs planks must be scientifically accurate. And it all must fit together. Proof planks must be organically linked to the claim, not tethered or bolted on.

And the inspiration for this brand strategy? From where does is come? From the product of course.



Homepages: On-claim and Fresh.


When your homepage doesn’t deliver your brand strategy you’re making a mistake. Plain and simple.

It’s okay to have a functional home page. In fact, it’s an imperative — with buttons for navigation, pictures of products and lifestyles, copy explaining what you sell (hopefully).  But if you don’t land a punch about your main brand value you are missing a most important messaging opportunity. Perhaps the most.

With my little brand gambit “Brand Strategy Tarot Cards” I look at a company or product homepage to see what it conveys about the key brand value or claim, in What’s The Idea? parlance. In the digital age it’s très important.

That’s not to say you must bang visitors over the head with the claim day after day, but you have to accommodate it. Coca-Cola is still about refreshment. They needn’t say the word, but should convey it on the homepage.

There was a time when ads were your best image and brand building tool. Now it’s the homepage. And just as ads burn out, so do home pages. Update them regularly. Daily would be awesome. Weekly, best. Keep then on-claim and fresh.




Consuming the Future.


Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen, America said today in the NYT “There’s never been a competitive consumer product that sits at 80% market share.” 

Why is that?  Well, if the pie is big enough, competitors will want a piece. Tesla has 80% of the electronic vehicle market right now but that is about to change. All the big girls and boys are launching EVs and want share. Which will be big fuel for the economy. From General Motors changing its logo to be more electric, to the people in charging station manufacturing, to real estate people thinking about what to do with gas stations — the EV will be one of the biggest sources of economic change we’re seen since the Model T.

I’m not a numbers nerd but I bet economists are salivating with all the models of growth to be considered over the next decade thanks to EVs.  

I was at Starbucks this morning and while waiting for my grande non-fat latte, pondered the next Starbucks — the next consumable targeting a daypart behavior that will change the marketing world.   The future of consumables is what brand planning and marketing planning are all about. It’s the sun in our morning. 

I love the smell of consumer behavior in the morning.




Brand Jab


Out of necessity, while living in small-market Asheville, NC, I am having to reevaluate my pricing model.  Without going into my process for brand strategy development let’s say it takes me roughly about 150 hours of research and labor to get to an idea.  But for clients in this market and encumbered by the pandemic, something has to change. Toto, we’re not in NYC anymore. Adapt or suffer.

Over the past year or so I’ve been mentoring some startup entrepreneurs through a neat program called Asheville Elevate.  I have not had the ability to do brand strategy for my mentees, as it doesn’t fit into the MIT-based program guidelines. It’s been hard trying to help young companies without having a brand strategy in place. Sans organizing principle, everything feels tactical. So, recently I’ve decided to try out a process lite to short cut my normal process with a couple of mentees. And it’s worked. I’m calling it a Brand Jab. Like a vaccine jab, it’s quick and painless. The process reduces the number of interviews I conduct, by attempting to find the one or two people most likely to speak for all targets. Rather than write a perfect brief, I cluster consumer care-abouts and brand good-ats and fast track my decision-making.

It’s not exhaustive. But it’s agile.

And I’m able to try it out on the market at a price point that should resonate. It also comes with a guarantee. For a quote write



Spam Words.  


The unsub button is set you to allow you to stop unwanted emails. The first options is

__ Too many emails.  The second is

__ Not relevant to me.  The third is

__ Too promotional.   And the fourth is

__ I don’t know why I’m receiving these emails.

They put the first one in that position to increase the chances of it being elected. Then the email company can argue spam emails are not so bad there are just to many of them…and stay in the spam business. Just with a bit less frequency.

Spam is to email what TV commercials are to broadcast TV. Unwanted intrusions.

Brand planners are all about relevance. And salience. Advertisers are about attention. Email marketers are clicks. And marketers are all about selling…and all of the above. The problem with most of the above, is that it negatively impacts relevance and salience. Consumers are conditioned not to believe certain words.  Certain claims: better, faster, tastier, cheaper. These are spam words.

Brand planners have to weed out the spam and identify new ways of conveying value. New strategies to garner interest, desire and action.

I like Spam on sliders, not in my copy.



Ask or Tell?


According to The New York Times Sunday President Biden has decided to ask Homeland Security and NASA employees to take paid leave from their organizations and go down to the southern border to help minister to the thousands of children crossing the border seeking asylum. Finally, a smart and workable solution to handling the huge influx. Problem is, he is asking rather than telling. It may be the kindler gentler approach to ask, yet in times of crisis we need fast and decisive moves.

In the 1990s while working as an ad agency guy on the AT&T account, AT&T faced a government regulation requiring them to allocate a proportion of corporate 800 numbers to MCI and Sprint. Until that time, AT&T owned all 800s and was viewed as a monopoly. If you chose to stay with A&T, though, you could.

The president of the Business Communications Services group, Joe Nacchio, emptied two huge corporate buildings in New Jersey of his white-collar work force and sent them on the road to meet with 800 service customers large and small in an effort to get them to stay. Talk about a redeployed workforce! He didn’t ask. He told. It was an unmitigated success. If memory serves, they retained about 90% of their 800 business and margins probably increased as MCI and Sprint were discounters. As an added bonus, they picked up quite a bit of market intelligence for their efforts.

Moral of the story, think big. Be big. Lead decisively.


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.






OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. It is a John Doerr construct renaming and tweaking Andy Grove’s MBO or management by objectives. John and Andy were big deals back in the 90s and aughts. Measurement is always a good idea. And performance against objectives is marketing.

OKRs, according to Wikipedia, are best when the success rate is 70%. The thinking being, if success is 100% the objective are too easy.

In my business the framework for brand strategy is a Claim and Proof array: one claim, three proof planks. If we think about the brand claim as the objective (a business winning value) and the proof planks as the results (activities that support the claim) we have a way to begin to measure brand strategy success — getting us a little closer to the notion of return on strategy or, acronym baton please, ROS.

While OKRs are internal business measures, ROS is a consumer-focused measure best derived from attitudes and beliefs. The degree to which a consumer can play back your brand claim, e.g., Coke Is Refreshment and proof of that claim, e.g., cooling affect on a hot day, or the bite of the cola bean – are measures that can be tracked to sales. Brand attitude trackers, when tied to sale, are how we build brands. It’s how we measure brand success.