The IS and The DOES.


The IS is a foundational brand element.  It is a clear explanation of what a product or service IS.  If you are a restaurant you are not a bar. If you are an Italian restaurant you are not a French restaurant. If a professional services provider, say in the insurance business, you are not an accountant. If you only sell property and casualty insurance, not health, you must make that known in your marketing and branding. It’s part of the IS. I learned a lot about the IS when working in the technology sector, especially with start-ups. Apple’s iPhone was way more than phone, but that is what they chose as their IS, to launch the idea. Service companies have trouble with the IS.

Now for the DOES. The DOES is what the brand or service does. It offers up a key value or consumer benefit. When deciding upon the DOES marketers often fall prey to the “Fruit Cocktail Effect.” They like to think they’re good at so many things that they position around all those things, and none stick out. And the cherry tastes like the grape, which tastes like the peach and pear…a sugary confection sans any individual taste at all.  So software tools default to productivity and fast food defaults to convenience.

Getting the Is-Does right is basic blocking and tackling in branding. It may sound simple, until you try it.



Together We Well.


Together We Well is the new tagline for Northwell Health. I get where they’re going but must admit to being underwhelmed. That said, it is way better than the previous ad campaign-derived line “Look North.” Which effectively said “use us.”

There are two kinds of healthcare: preventative and curative. Hospital systems make their money on the latter. After someone gets sick they are treated. If people stay healthy, they needn’t be treated. Prevention is good for society but not always for the bottom line. That said, Northwell is on board with prevention.

Giving patients a role in prevention is good – the “together” part. Everyone should be contributing to better health. Practitioners and consumers. And that is what the Affordable Care Act is all about. Under the ACA, doctors are compensated based on the degree to which they keep their patient population healthy. So we are moving in the right direction.

But population health is a societal issue. It goes beyond Northwell. Don’t get me wrong it is imperative America gets better coverage at better prices. But it’s not a brand position. Strawberry Frog, Northwell’s agency, gets this — and they likes to create movements. Sometimes it works. My bet is not this time.

I would make the “together we well” idea a brand plank — supporting the claim – not the claim itself.

Brand claims should add value straight to the bank. In the case of Northwell they need to convince patients the system is better than other systems. When I worked on the Northwell brand (it was called North Shore-LIJ at the time) the tagline was “Setting New Standards in Healthcare,” a line created by Della Femina. It was provable, albeit not easily.  

“Together We Well” is contemporary. Maybe hip. A big aspiration. And even provable. But what it is not is money in the Northwell brand bank. Not a direct deposit anyway.



The Problem Pitching Marketing People.


Marketing people spend their entire lives trying to sell their wares. It can really suck the life out of them. Even sitting on a beach or walking a mountain top, in the back of their minds they’re plotting sales strategies. Website fixes. Packaging. So, when you try to sell a salesperson, they already have their radar up. A fast “no,” to your pitch.

I spend a great deal of time doing biz/dev for What’s The Idea?, my brand consultancy.  My key tool is email and convos at events. When addressing marketing people, it really doesn’t work so well. Radar on.

And frankly, marketing people are heavily into tactics; they’re not the real product or service owners.  I’m more apt to successfully engage a C-level decision maker, talking about product, competition, positioning and market evolution, than I am talking to a marketing nerd. Radar.

That’s why when I cold call (via email, it’s more polite), I try to head up the chain and talk to owners. The people who feel the money pressure — not the marketing people who feel the messaging pressure.

Just me. Just me.




The Recipe for Behavior Change.


I’ve had some time to think about my post from yesterday asking whether brand planners should focus on behavior change or attitude change and I have decided upon attitude change. Behavior change unbacked by a set of values is simply a transaction. A default to ease-of-use. A reflex. These can and do drive a lot of commerce, don’t get me wrong. Habit is something to be sought in marketing.  But brand planning is about ingrained habits. Emotional habits. Cognitive habits. And those come from thoughtful cognition.

I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of brand strategies. My framework uses one claim and three proof planks. Claim without proof is not branding, it’s advertising. I’d venture to say 95% of my proof planks are attitude based. One A Day Vitamins, named after a behavior still needs to support the behavior with a why. Got Milk still has to support the behavior with a why.

Trust me, changing behavior is a critical goal in marketing. But changing attitudes is the brand planner’s job. It’s the recipe for behavior change.



Behavior or Attitudes?


Maximilian Weigl, a strategist at 72andSunny in Amsterdam recently guest curated the Strands of Genius newsletter created by Faris and Rosie Yakob.  Maximillian identified himself with the following descriptor: “I help build brand behaviours that outlast campaigns.”  I loved it.

One of my memes is “Campaigns come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible,” so I felt a kinship with Max. Plus I’m a fan of 72andSunny. But the first part of Maximillian’s statement “building brand behaviors” got me thinking. Are brand planners focused on building/changing behaviors or attitudes? 

My gut says attitudes but let’s take a little quick look.

Shop, buy, advocate and recommend are behaviors. Who can argue those aren’t important in brand planning? One of my favorite sayings about advertising is “make someone feel something, then do something.” Do is a behavior. Transact. Mic drop.

Yet prefer, desire, appreciate, and discern are attitudes. And they precede behavior and drive behavior, no?  Unless the choice is truly price driven.

I’ve been a Hellmann’s Mayonnaise fan all my life. I like the taste and just buy it without thinking. It’s a behavior.  A repetitive behavior. Hellmann’s loves me, they needn’t spend marketing dollars to get my business.  But a competing mayo after my business can’t just change my behavior, they must change my attitude first.

Or must they?  Perhaps I try another product at the suggestion of a friend and it tastes as good. Or better. That behavior (trial) can lead to attitude change.

Is this a chicken and egg debate?  What do you think?




I’ve got a purpose-driven brand for you.


And its purpose is to sell more, to more, more times at higher prices. (A phrase borrowed from Sergio Zyman).  Unless you can do that, you might as well be a non-profit. And don’t get me started on the word intentional.  (Wake up on the wrong side of the bed much, Poppe?)

Here’s the thing. Marketing is hard. It’s time consuming. It requires focus and an engine running on all cylinders. I believe in altruism. In helping people. I believe in the planet. In global warming. And these can all be great byproducts of creating a smart, in-demand product or service.  But I suggest making a great product or service first, make money second, and be intentional and purpose-driven with your after tax earnings. Otherwise it’s likely your road to success with have extra forks in it.

As a brand planner, I know how hard it is to boil down all the customer care-abouts and brand good-ats so as to organize your values into three planks. Purpose or intention should not be a plank. They can be the result or outcome — but not the plank itself.

Google’s main mission was to put the world’s information one click away.  Not to make the planet smarter. (That’s IBM’s claim and see where that got them.)





Meaningful and Fresh.


When I deliver a brand strategy the key components are a single claim and a three tined proof array. Each tine is what I more commonly call a plank; each plank supports the claim. They have to be in harmony.  If your proof doesn’t support your claim your  brand strategy is out of sync.

Typically, the proof planks make themselves known to me first.  Mined from brand discovery, these 3 key clusters of customer care-abouts and brand good-ats are the values that determine brand preference and purchase.  The proof planks then spawn the claim. This is the hard part.  The creative part.  The claim must be meaningful and as stated must be aligned with the proofs. But it must also be fresh. And when I say fresh, I mean it mustn’t feel tired or like something you’ve heard a thousand times. Unless it’s a phase that appears totally out of context. A common phrase in an uncommon place can make it fresh.

In the brand strategy world, the claim is not a tagline.  That’s left up to the creative agency people. The campaign builders. But it is a de facto tagline. A tagline stand-in. (Campaigns come and go…a powerful brand idea is indelible.)

That said, if you want the creative people to take your strategy seriously, the claim must be meaningful and, by all means, fresh.

For examples of claims in your category, please write




Strategy is Your Muse.


I don’t know about you but I do some of my best work when in a group setting. Riffing and recontextualizing other’s ideas.  Group think can be messy if the group is too big and unstructured, but when the numbers are small enough for conversations to take place, ideation can soar.

In advertising, known as a creative business, most creative teams have a visual person and word person.  Both understand each other and their respective crafts and a chemistry results. They present ideas to a creative boss, who helps them focus, refocus and finesse. A team.

Problem is, business people and marketers we aren’t always in a position to work in groups.  Sometimes is just you and your computer. Or you and a research report.  You and the inventory. It’s lonely having to make decisions in a vacuum.  That’s why strategy is so, so important.  Strategy becomes one’s muse. It’s both a starting place and an endpoint.  It gives you a catalyst for what must come in the middle. The thinking.

Brand strategy is an organizing principle for marketing. It’s delimiting and inspiring.

If you don’t have a brand strategy, you will waste a lot of time and have a lonely time doing it.



Brand Strategy and Messaging.


One of my brand planning memes is the definition of brand strategy: “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” I was working on a readout for a specialty pharmacy company using this definition when it dawned on me that maybe it’s time to subjugate “messaging” by surrounding it with parentheses.

Even though messaging is what most people are concerned with when thinking about brand strategy, I’m having second thoughts.  It is where a lot of the marketing budget goes, especially for companies with out-sized advertising budgets — but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really secondary to “product” and “experience.” 

Get the organizing principle right for product and the experience and it’s going to be hard to get the “message” wrong.  And advertising messaging should never, ever be the tail that wags the dog.




SMEs and Copy Points.


I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people while doing brand discovery. Some at the absolute top of their fields. Highly impressive people. I’ve worked with members of Bell Labs, software engineers and healthcare system CEOs. People are so interesting if you give them the opportunity. And some bait.  But one thing I’ve found when interviewing so-called SMEs (subject matter experts), is that they often answer questions with what I call copy points — dumbed down generalizations about what makes their product or service better.  It’s like they are copywriters. 

For a recent interview I asked a CEO who sells software to specialty pharmacists about differentiators. Here’s what she said:

“We provide one-on-one specialized services. With us you are not a number, you’re a person. We are more focused on your individual wants and needs.”

Woo. What Am I going to do with that? 

So we probe. We ask for examples. We storify and cajole. I did get what I needed but this CEO started out spouting copy.

As smart as SMEs are, they often need to be drilled in more evidentiary explanations of value. SMEs are conditioned by poor marketing claims too. And like the rest of us they have been conditioned all their lives.