Brand Flotsam.


I came across what looks to be a cool hot sauce company in Austin, TX by the name of Yellowbird.  Nice memorable name. Playful and fun logo. The website that is bold and visual.  I even dug deeply into the site and found in the About Section, a suggestion that birds aren’t bothered by the heat of hot peppers — a tie to the brand name.

Yellowbird, I also noticed, was looking for a director of marketing.

Following are 15 things they are seeking in a candidate:

  • Be the voice and advocate of the customer within the organization
  • Work with Leadership to ideate and create quarterly and annual marketing initiatives and budgets and ensure tip-to-tail execution
  • Leverage data to plan, optimize, and report on marketing efforts
  • Help create the brand story in the world and evolve the brand and voice over time
  • Grow market share and overall brand awareness
  • Plan and manage field marketing, sampling, and event activities on a national scale using internal and external resources
  • Coordinate with sales team on shopper marketing initiatives and activities
  • Work with multiple internal stakeholders including but not limited to creative, finance, innovation and others to coordinate projects, develop messaging and produce marketing materials for various communications and events
  • Utilize best practices to own or assist with project management, marketing team planning, reporting, operations, budget, and contracts
  • Communicate regularly and clearly with Yellowbird team members to maintain consistent forward momentum
  • Use company tools and systems to store files, manage vendor relationships, stay on top of communication, and manage projects and timelines
  • Ensure that all marketing and communication processes are continuously evaluated for proper operation, relevance, efficiency and utilization
  • Continually assess and introduce process improvement measures.
  • Lead, manage, and develop your team to deliver exceptional results
  • Manage cohesive working relationships with all other personnel and stakeholders to ensure unified and effective promotional efforts

All of these functions are important. Cut and paste important. But they are also very much tactical. I’d be hard pressed to see any strategic focus here. And that was also reflected in Yellowbird’s “nice” website. Lots of words, lots of product flotsam, little strategy.

What gets people ordering hot sauce online or out of their chairs and to a retailer is strategy. Strategy with a poetic, memorable, replicable flair.

Yellowbird has a good first step (name, package, website) but it hasn’t begun yet to do the real work of brandcraft. 




Rebranding. And Brand Planks.


I did a brand strategy for a cyber security company a number of years ago. It was a killer assignment and a killer company. A couple of years later the CEO re-approached me and asked if I would do a refresh.  The company had moved into a couple of new areas and he wanted to check to see if his claim and proof planks were still dead on.  The new business areas were crypto, block chain and osquery.

My approach to brand strategy has always been one in which the work is supposed to be future- proof, if not future enabling. But sometimes when the product, target or technology change a look-see is required.

When the reassessment brand work was complete I was happy to report that the 3 brand planks stayed the same.  The claim, however, evolved a bit yet it was certainly only an evolution. An evolution that allowed the company to take more responsibility for understanding the nuanced science of cyber security.

The learning for me was that even if a strategy claim changes, it’s less likely the planks will change. Planks are more like DNA. Leopards don’t really change their spots.

Brand planks are critical because they feed the teaching narrative that build indelible value. Many brand strategy consultants sell you a claim and some gobbledygook about voice or personality. Unless you are getting planks you’re being short-changed.





Brand Strategy Targeting.


Brand strategy should speak to all targets. And, in a perfect world, all people.  Once we segregate a target and prioritize sub-targets (for maximization) we are moving beyond branding. Segmentation goes counter to brand craft. Segmentation is an important function but it’s a marketing function.

Let’s start at the beginning. When creating a brand strategy, the planner wants to look at all targets that come in contact with the brand. As an example, let’s look at a recent What’s The Idea? engagement for a math tutoring company. The most important target was the parent. The payor. Another important target was anyone who might recommend a tutor, such as a teacher or friend in academia. The tutee (Is that a word?) AKA the student, is also important. And, of course, prospective math tutor employees are important. All these targets have different motivations and care-abouts, albeit math improvement is an ultimate goal.   

To make it more complicated, it’s possible to further parse the parent target. That is, are they up-scale moms and dads? Price-conscious?  Professional or blue collar? Is the tutoring remedial or preparatory, for say college testing? All of these things must be factored in. But for proper brand strategy, with everything factored in, the value prop/brand claim must appeal to all. Everyone must be treated as a prospect. A news reporter, without kids, might break a huge story on your brand, while never being part of the target.

Brand strategy isn’t code, it should speak to everyone.




Stop Fiddling Nero.


I’ve worked on hundreds of brands throughout the years but the one that probably taught me the most was AT&T. I started out schlepping ads back and forth to Bridgewater, NJ is a big black portfolio case. And I left the business a brand strategist. 

My years working on multiple AT&T lines of business — from retail phone stores, early email services, business long distance, technology (microchips, central office switches, PBXs, video), data lines and more — taught me about the company and its culture. And it taught me brute force marketing. Not all AT&T companies were equal but the brand was strong, well-managed and at the very top, well led.

Today the newspapers refer to AT&T as a wireless company.

The strategist in me would say AT&T is not a wireless company. It’s a telecommunications company. And its announcement to spin off the media properties, formerly Time Warner, is a welcome one.

At its best AT&T is a business business. Not a creative business. People invent stuff there. They are in the telemetry business. And this world and the future are moving that way. Some of us refer to AT&T as in the plumbing business. The pipes, switches and receiver business. It is. And without going too Sci-Fi on you, that business will take all of the company’s energy and efforts to own.

Bring back Bell Labs. Create the future. Leave the sitcoms and romcoms to someone else. Stop fiddling Nero. The planet needs you.




A Tale of Three Strategies.


A number of years ago, I was involved in a new business pitch for a big piece of healthcare business in NY. I had a knock down drag out fight with one of the ad agencies principles about whether or not to keep the existing (previous agency’s) tagline. I was yeah, the principle was nay. He finally threw in the towel. We suggested keeping that tagline which was “setting new standards in healthcare.”

The brand strategy claim I developed for the health system was “a systematized approach to improving healthcare.” Eyes on the system. You can see how close setting new standards is to a systematized approach.

Fast forward 15 years and that same health system hired a brand consultant to assist in a name change. The brand claim they came up with was “Providing transformative leadership driving the future.” A first pass you’d think it was a Google translation of the previous efforts. A repurpose. But on closer inspection, it was a bit of a pander to senior management. Making the health system leaders the heroes, rather than the system itself.  Words and emphases matter. Especially in strategy.   

Tomato, to-mah-toe?  I don’t think so.




Localize It!


This week I’ve been thinking about a trend which I’ve yet to name in any meme-able way. When Thomas Friedman wrote that the world is flat, one of the things he was referring to was the fact that the internet and social media have made information sharing around the globe instantaneous. And while not everyone can afford an airline ticket, most people are 12-14 hours by plane to any country they would like to visit. When I am using micro aggressions against xenophobes I like to say, “In 8,000 years, we’ll all be the one skin color anyway.” My way of saying the earth is flat and getting flatter.

But wait!

A contradicting point of view, one being brought on by global warming, viruses, sciences and demographers, suggests we may need less travel. And definitely need to reduce emissions caused by global transport of goods. Here in Asheville, we are very big on local sourcing of food. Hopefully, local sourcing of clothing and everyday essential isn’t far away. If we can create little micro or semi-micro manufacturing schemes to feed the needs of local consumers, and do it eco-efficiently, we’ll reduce emissions and stop carbonizing the planet.

The flattening of the earth made imports and exports viable. Now we need to retrench. To quote a great Rasta Peter Tosh, we need to Localize It.



Is-Does In The House.


Every once-in-a-while when reviewing Google Analytics I come across one of my blog posts someone clicked on…and I like to read it just to see where my head was at. 

In one such, I uncovered this descriptor sentence “I run an evidence-based brand planning shop.” Over the years, there have been many ways I described What’s The Idea? but this may be one of the best. From an inside baseball standpoint, it points to my claim and proof framework, a unique differentiator. And while claim and proof are not overly complicated words they do require a bit of explanation.  

The words “brand planning shop” don’t say brand strategy but imply it. And, of course, “evidence-based” centers the narrative around science, not marketing ephemera. Not marko-babble.

I need to start using this meme-able phrase in my self-marketing more. When I speak about a brand Is-Does, what a brand Is and what a brand Does, evidence-based brand planning shop gets me close.



Search and Stick-to-itiveness.


Every morning I try to blog about branding. To date I have somewhere north of 2850 posts. One of the tricks I use to build make blog more visible and build followers is to index each post with my consultancy brand What’s The Idea?  In search terms that means I tag whatstheidea, one word, to every blog — along with whatever else I happen to be writing about.  My intent is to be able to tell people to Google whatstheidea and another word or brand using the plus sign (e.g., whatstheidea+burger king) and they will be one click away from my writings and thoughts. 

It worked for a few years then as Google kept changing the algorithms my results were sent way beneath the fold. I mean waaaay beneath.

Well, it looks like I may be back. Thanks to the latest Google algorithm, some secure server and WordPress magic by my hosting company (Unreal Web Marketing) and a lot of stick-to-itiveness, my years of indexing work has not been for naught.

It’s fun when plans work out.



Dunkin’ Cover. (As in, duck and cover.)


The wifus loves donuts.  Her favorite is Dunkin’ Donuts Vanilla Crème. On Mother’s Day, a lil bit of powdered sugar still on her lips, she happened to mention that the donuts used to be better. Apparently, the vanilla filling used to extend right to the very end of the donut and now it takes a bite to get there. As a kid who was coaxed to go to church with a jelly donut, I appreciate her point. A donut bite without filling is a lost opportunity. A branding problem.

Since the customer is always right, why did Dunkin’ (they officially dropped the word Donuts from the brand) decide to lighten the filling load? There might be an assortment of reasons: new filling extrusion machines, reduce sugar content for health reasons, save a few pennies, the list goes on. But if one donut lover noticed, you can bet thousands of donut lovers noticed. And of those thousands, how many consciously or subconsciously have decided to try another donut shop – perhaps a craft donut shop — or even another morning confection altogether?

When a butterfly flaps her wings….

When you have craving brands and you alter the recipe or the proportion, it has an effect. There had better be a very good reason for doing it. It gets noticed.






Leidy Klotz recently wrote a book titled Subtract which I heard about yesterday on NPR during a Mother’s Day drive.  The thesis of the book us that we over-encumber ideas and strategies and, yes, our lives by continuously adding extraneous things.  Think hoarding. Mr. Klotz quoted Lao Tzu to make his point:

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day.” Lao Tzu, Quotations, Wisdom.

Brand planning, at least for master brand endeavors, must follow the same advice. We begin by adding knowledge. And that requires lots of discovery. One takes in information, data, behavioral observation, culture and language and hoards it all up. Enough information to make one’s head spin. But then it’s wisdom time. Time to subtract. Time to create hierarchies of import.

Only after subtracting the less important, can powerful ideas and strategy emerge. This is the heavy lifting in brand planning. It’s the story of the sinking boat, when things must be thrown overboard to keep afloat. (Too dramatic?)

In my brand presentation I have a cautionary slide on the “Fruit Cocktail Effect.” When you have too many ingredients, you create a sugary mess.

Subtract is the essence of good brand planning.   As Robert Hunter wrote and Jerry Garcia sang “Hello baby, I’m gone good bye.”