I hear a lot of service brands talk about trust. There’s nothing wrong with being a trusted brand. Hell, it’s the same in the brand strategy world. Clients need to trust. Especially when marketers are not buying something existential, like a logo or name. They’re buying “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” But I digress.

When trust becomes a problem in a category, say car dealerships or low-cost lawyers, marketers sometimes default to using the “T” word in their advertising. It may sound like marko-babble but it’s reality: You can’t sell trust, you earn trust. Using the word trust in an ad is flawed craft. Proving you can be trusted is the only way to approach it. Through deeds. And actions.

Trust Pilot has built a business on codifying trust. Yelp, to an extent, has done the same collecting customer comments.

Whenever I read an ad that contains the word trust I lose interest. It’s worse than canned laughter on TV. Don’t tell me how to feel, make me feel.



New Age Agency Searches.



I have been going through an agency search with one of my clients. It has been quite a learning curve.  It has been a while since I pitched a piece of business as an agency.  I mean a while in like dog years. When digital advertising is part of the solution set, performance marketing and measurement is almost as important as the big idea/big show of the pitch.

Algo over personality.

Being a strategist, it’s imperative that I stay up to date with culture. And when some companies today are using 80-90% of their media budgets on search, that’s a culture change. When brand awareness can be judged in a geography by counting Google search queries of a brand name (relative to other brands), that’s a sea change.

But clicks alone are not what the marketing and advertising business is about. I deal in brand strategy. The organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. I am not the maker of generic dashboards.

A better click rate for digital ads that are off-strategy aren’t better clicks. They are more clicks. So better isn’t always better. Not if it isn’t hewing to the values that predispose and post-dispose customers to purchase your product, aka brand values.  

Selling clicks isn’t selling product.






It’s not what makes a Subaru a Subaru.  But it is what makes for good brand strategy discovery. When you delve into what people hold most dear about brands and behaviors you’re in special, activating territory.  I’m not talking about most of the time people use the word love in a sentence, I’m talking about real love. Arm tingling love. Love you can actually feel when talking to consumers.  Those are the discussions you want to have.

And, honestly, you can’t just ask “What do you love about your car?” Or “What frozen pizza do you love for dinner?” You have to get to the real love discussion organically. Steer the convo in a that direction. Probe for great times.  Great experiences. Use your Galvanic Skin Response tool (just kidding) to feel the (interviewee’s) love. Then fuel it. Add more kindling.  

This is fertile territory for brand discovery. For human discovery. For feelings discovery.





One stop shopping.


One stop shopping. One stop shopping.  If I’ve heard this statement once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.  Everyone uses it as a positive. I’m the debunker. One stop shopping is the enemy of the brand planner.  And, blushingly, I’ve used the words myself.  Bad doggy.

One stop shopping is not a position.  It’s multiple positions. All without provenance. Or the provenance is everything-ness. Hence nothing-ness.

The brand planner takes brand good-ats and consumer care-abouts and gently places them in a stock pot. Then, starts the boil down. When all extraneous flavors are boiled away, we’re left with one super flavorful “value.” One.

So, from here on out, please don’t use one stop shopping in your brand planning rigor.

This consultancy is What’s the Idea? Not What Are The Ideas?



A Loose Assemblage of Tactics…


A logo is not a business. Marketing is not strategy.

I don’t mean to go all geezer on you but there are a lot of digital natives who think as long as they have a logo, they have a business. Well, any biped with a couple of fingers now adays can create a logo.  And thanks to Google, reinventor of the advertising business, any biped with some digits can also jump into marketing with little forethought. Keywords anyone? Marketing is not strategy. Sadly, in many cases today marketing is a loose assemblage of tactics.

As someone in the strategy business, I find this concerning. I don’t mean to paint all digital natives with the same brush. Many get the value of a finely tuned business idea and business-building strategic plan. But a business plan that is simply a loose assemblage of tactics is not a strategy.

Strategy is the linkage between a business goal and accountability. Strategy is the lens one looks through when determining tactical success or failure. Without strategy marketing is binary. It works or it doesn’t. It is off or on. One or zero.

Brand strategy allows marketers to measure effectiveness beyond the tactic. It maps consumer attitudes and beliefs to business success. It’s long term.

Happy to explain more. Write



De Facto Brand Strategy.


Brand taglines are de facto brand strategies. More specifically, they are de facto brand claims.  (An actual brand strategy comprises one claim and three proof planks. (A claim by itself is simply advertising.)

Yesterday we had a couple of boxes of cat food delivered by Chewy. Smart ecommerce model, yes?  They’re the Amazon of petfood.  On the boxes were the following tagline “Where pet lovers shop.”  It’s a nice, warm and fuzzy advertising line but, frankly, not a powerful brand claim.

Let’s parse the meaning. Secondly, it tells everybody Chewy is where shopping takes place. Kind of superfluous. Basically this is saying it’s a commercially available product. As for the first positioning Chewy for lovers of pets, all I can say is that the claim doesn’t speak to pet haters. Again, no real there there.

Brand strategy informs people what a brand Is and what a brand Does. (The Is-Does.)  It also organizes for consumers discreet values derived from customers’ most pronounced care-abouts and the brand’s primary good-ats. Boiling these down to three planks is the heavy lifting of the brand strategist.

Brand taglines must reflect the brand strategy claim. If not, it is wasted energy.  Off the top of my head, I can offer up a handful of more powerful brand claims for Chewy than where pet lovers shop.  

My guess is this is a line developed by the ad agency. As a bow atop the end of a commercial.  Chewy and my cat Harry deserve better.




New Normal.


If we have learned anything as businesses the last couple of years it’s that we have to account for the new normal. And by new normal I mean pandemic and war. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, “padded” and stockpiled money in the face of this new normal, setting aside $902 million dollars in a so-called “rainy day fund.” How many small and mid-size businesses can say the same?

As a brand strategist who designs business-building guidelines for product, experience and messaging, I understand the importance of accounting for the new normal. Brand strategy informs how a company deals with and responds to the new normal. It goes beyond setting money aside, it provides a framework for action plans and change management plans – all of which are on-brand.

Brand strategy provides a security blanket in tough times. A place of comfort from which to make difficult decisions.




Strangers Rock


I had a neat conversation with a dear friend of mine yesterday who shall remain nameless. He’s an alcoholic, sober for decades now.  One of the things that has kept him on the straight and narrow over the years is being a sponsor at AA.  My dude loves to help others. It gives his life big-ass purpose.

Yesterday he told me the people he speaks to in AA and those he deals with at work – he works with disabled veterans, making their homes more accessible – is that they are all strangers to him at first. And as such, they feel a freedom to open up to him. When he is dealing with peoples’ truths and important issues he can be most helpful. In fact, he joked, some of the things that come out of his mouth are advice he himself should take.  

I identified with his talking-to-strangers notion as that’s what I do in my brand strategy work. Yeah I’m mining for insights, yeah I’m studying data, yeah I observe and hypothesize consumer trends, but first and foremost I talk with people. People who are the buyers, potential buyers and influencers of buyers.

I make it easy on those strangers to tell me the truth. I never position myself as someone who needs to be impressed. I don’t judge, in fact I try to disarm with a personal numb-nuts story or two. Then shoot quickly past the niceties and jump into the work of listening and learning.

I tell truths and I expect my interviewees to tell the truth.

Strangers rock.    


Google and Carbon Footprints.


On its homepage today Google promotes it is Carbon Neutral since 2007.  I believe Google. But I also Googled “Google’s carbon footprint.” The result?

“Google unleashed 12,529,953 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2019. That’s roughly equivalent to more than 2.73 million passenger vehicles’ pollution in a year.

That’s a lot of nasty gas. The fact the company has been carbon neutral since 2007 doesn’t mean they aren’t releasing CO2, it just means they are buying carbon offsets to minimize their CO2 pollution until they can meet their 2030 goal, stated as “We’re decarbonizing our energy consumption so that by 2030, we’ll operate on carbon-free energy, everywhere, 24/7.”

Being carbon neutral or, better yet, zero carbon is the goal of planetary health. Google gets that. But their server farms are causing greenhouse gases like few others. The good news is they want to fix it. Buying carbon offsets until such a time as they can actually power their farms with renewable energy is laudable. But for the next 8ish years, it’s still a spew-fest. And the globe is warming.  I would not be surprised to see parent company Alphabet get into the energy business. If they are listening, a topic for another day, I suggest they use the next 8 years researching and developing renewables. It’s a better near-term mission than colonizing Mars.




Positive Potentialities?


I read a lot of blogs and newsletters by brand planners and it seems we index high for mental discomfort. This is not a quantitative observation, just me projecting. We’re good at reading people and their feelings. It helps us be in touch with our own mental well-being.  We are not complainers.  In general, we are willing to share our difficulties with others for the greater good. It helps us by not keeping things bottled up, which in turn can help others.

Yesterday, I wrote about shining light when creating brand strategy. Aspire rather than dispire (sic). But sometimes it’s important to look at the full spectrum of attitudes and feelings when brand planning. Knowing consumer anxieties and their depth can help with the light. Small business loans can be stressful. Small business loans for the BIPOC community or the under-banked can be really stressful. It wouldn’t be smart to think that all loan customers are looking to build a dream business with their newfound capital. Some are looking to get out from under. Yet most ads about small business loans focus on the positive potentialities. It can be tone-deafening.

You can still shine light while being real. While understanding the totality of emotions that go into borrowing money. That’s good art. And that’s good brand craft.