Reimagine Possible.


Jeff Dachis is a really smarty dude. We’ve never met but I’m a big admirer.  He co-founded Razorfish a digital ad agency, then co-founded Bond, Art and Science and experiential marketing firm. Next came the Dachis Group, a social business outfit which was really edgy.  Jeff and I were cohorts in thinking about the social web and its impact on business. I was trying to coin the term “social computing” he called it “social business.”  The startup I worked for at the time was Zude, his was Dachis Group. The winner??? Jeff.

His most recent effort, and outgrowth of a diabetes diagnosis is called One Drop: a perfectly named business meant to improve and simplify the life of diabetics. Jeff built the business into a multi-million dollar company, in fact, Bayer just invested $100 million this past August. Now it seems One Drop will expand beyond diabetes into other disease states. Stay tuned.

Smart is as smart does.  Until it comes to a branding. And taglines.  One Drop’s line, from the website, is Reimagine Possible. Huh?  If it seems you’ve heard it before, you have. It’s probably an ad headline, a thousand times over. Also a problem, it’s not particularly endemic to healthcare. Lastly, it is not a top patient care-about.  It feels to me like Mr. Dachis approved it because he didn’t want to over-manage someone in his marketing dept. 

Branding is hard. Real hard. Even for smart people.



The Purpose Of Branding Is Not Purpose. 


Purpose is a word brands and marketers are using to cudgel positive brand values. It has been co-opted by many companies to convey ideals like sustainability, education, anti-poverty, LGBTQ and an assortment of other worthwhile causes.

Purpose-driven initiatives are brilliant. IRL (in real life). I’m wary, however, of making them part of your brand strategy. Unless there is an endemic product feature or value that accrue, stay away.  

Brand strategy, in the What’s The Idea? framework, forges three product values under a single brand claim. Those values are culled from the most powerful customer care-abouts and brand good-ats.  These three values are the ones most likely to impact a sale. They must not be borrowed-interest values, which is often what “purpose” driven values are.

Say you are a kayak maker in the mountains of Colorado and you donate 1% of your profits to water conservation. Excellent.  But that doesn’t make you a conservation company. You are a kayak company.

Branding is your purpose. Your only purpose.  It’s what will allow you the largesse to donate.

PSFK a smart brand and marketing consultancy has an upcoming event called Retailing with Purpose. The event description says “Where we investigate ways to respond to the needs of the community – from sustainability to inclusion.” Off-piste my friends. Topical yes, but a side trail. Worthy of attention but tactical…not a branding play.

I have a presentation on social media with a slide “Care about what your customers care about.” I live by it.  But tie that care-about to something deeply embedded in your product features, functions and experience. Don’t piggy back. Not in branding.






Turning Data Into Insights.


I’m a big data guy.  Especially today when so many are treating data and science like the plaque. “My data trumps your data.  My statistics are better than yours.” But data feeds objectives. And though objectives are the metrics by which we measure success in business, they are really paint by numbers sans strategy. And a chaotic paint by numbers at that. 

It’s okay to judge marketing activity using data reports. Drink cases sold. Percentage of beds filled at the hotel. Readmissions to the hospital for the same diagnosis. But without written, codified and adhered to strategies, what are you really measuring? And how can you monitor and affect change.

What’s The Idea? is in the strategy business. Make no mistake.  This branding practice is not in the tactics business. Not until the master brand strategy is developed and approved. I will not create a marketing plan without a brand strategy to drive it. Brand strategy is the driver of marketing.  Without a driver, a car is on autopilot. Without a driver a car is a machine. Without a driver a brand is a random tactics generator.

Insights are the fulcrum of data. Properly packaged and culled, insights are the fastest way to successful data.



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!



Brand Planning Tools.


I was watching a couple of guys doing some residential construction recently and notice one was predrilling holes through a two by four while the second guy followed, drilling a longer hole through the wood into some concrete. One hole, two men, two drills.

It seemed like a duplication of effort that may have been corrected with one heavier duty, all-purpose drill. It made me wonder about tools and the construction industry.  And how many labor hours are lost to improper tools. This is not just a construction problem but an American work problem.

So it goes with brand planning too.

Are brand planners using the right tools to get to master brand strategy? Are they being efficient? Is the work product accurate? And when I say accurate I mean, does it truly predispose consumers to purchase?

All brand planners have tools. They have terms for their tools. They have processes. And presentation flowcharts. And briefs. But are they the right tools?  Are the meaningful?

Before you hire a brand planner, ask to see and have then discuss their tools. Have them take you through their process. Understand the logic of the tools. Don’t just assume the tools are effective.

One of may favorite interview questions, used to evaluate new hires, is “Tell me about some processes and practices you came up with at your last job to make things work better.” Tools.  Tools build brands.

Too see some brand planning tools uses at What’s The Idea?, write




Fact vs. Proof.


After a couple, two, tree(sic) years in advertising, marketing and branding I tethered my career to a single word I believe to be the bedrock of good selling: proof.  Today we are awash in facts. And data. And sadly, fake facts and misrepresented data. Prior to the new political environment, a huge contributor to this blight was and continues to be the internet – where you can say just about anything and get away with it.

As someone who grew up in an advertising world where TV stations asked for storyboards to be sent  to “Standards and Practices” for verification, truth actually reigned. Not today. People can say anything, so long as they appear to have conviction.

Today, facts are malleable. But Proof isn’t. When I started pontificating about proof years ago it was because I felt it to be a competitive advantage to actually say something then give people a reason to believe it. “Reason to believe” is a fairly common creative brief heading. Most advertising and marketing these days is claim-heavy and proof-light. So, the logic went, if I can dial up proof in branding — in demonstrations of a brand claim (e.g., Coke is refreshment) — I can get greater ballast in consumers’ minds.

It’s not enough to find a fact and publicize it. “Geico can save you 15% on your insurance.” You have to prove it. Proof makes the branding world go ‘round.  It also injects science into marketing. The brain requires proof. Brands require poof.

For examples of proof from within your business category write




Discovery Vs. Hacking.


All brand planners have their own unique ways to come at strategy problems. Also known as marketing problems. Most activity falls to fieldwork and research.  The latter tends to be quantitative (data) while the former tends to be more behavioral — conducting interviews with consumers and influencers. Much of this work can be labelled discovery.

The word hacking has grown quite a bit over the last 10-15 years. Hacking is a computer coding reference to unauthorized access but has since evolved to mean “shortcutting” to solve a problem…a means by which people use binary lessons (decision points) to bypass long logic ladders to get to answers quicker.

I’ve done brand discovery digging deep, deep, deep over the course of months to get to the claim and proof array (aka the brand strategy).  I’ve also hacked my way to brand strategies in 8 hours. (Not including dream time, that’s not billable.)

Long form discovery is safer and allows for more science. Hacking is perhaps less safe but more gut-ful. More intuitive. 

Of course, some assignment are more complex that others.  Trail of Bits, say, was way more complicated than was Sweet Loren’s cookie dough. Teq, an educational development company, was multidimensional whereas Handcraft Manufacturing was straight forward.

Hacking and discovery are two valuable brand planning tools. They provide the inputs. Where the rubber really meets the road though, is in the outputs. A story for another time.






Some people in the brand business believe naming is one of the more difficult undertakings. I can’t disagree. 

Naming often occurs before the product is built or generally available. But we name children sight unseen, so what’s the problem? Well, a good brand is remembered for its value(s) so when we imbue values in a name we have a leg up.  

When I work on a naming assignment I start with a brief. It can be tough if the product or service isn’t completely cooked — a chicken and an egg thing — but you can’t build what you don’t know so let’s start with what you know. Plus a tight brief (strategy) can guide a build.

I have a hard time believing how any creative projects, not just naming, can start without a brand brief. It’s silly. And a waste of time. 

Branding is a verb. It happens over time. Without a plan, a brand plan, the verb is lost and you’re stuck with a noun. Name your product or service with a living, breathing plan. Brief it up!

If you’d like to talk brand briefs, write




Brand Discovery Tip Number 1.


Disappointment is an emotion all humans experience.  If you haven’t been disappointed in life, you haven’t been trying.  Discussing these moments is also telling about what is important to you.  When doing brand discovery, especially for B2B clients, I like to ask about a key disappointment when talking to stakeholders.  Not everyone is happy to share their personal feelings but for many opening up about can be cathartic. Even when talking about a modest disappointment, a good interviewer can delve a little deeper into other areas that may be more telling.

When doing this type of work it’s important to share some of your own disappointments. It can prime the pump, as it were. Especially if in a similar are of business. Also, don’t stop at shallow answers, such as “We should have sold more widgets.”  Or “We lost our best designer.”  Drill down so you can feel from where the real pain emanates.

This doesn’t have to be downer time. And it’s certainly not judgement time.  It’s about truth and learning and building up opportunity.

Again, if you have no business disappointments, you haven’t been trying.