Framework Makes the Dream Work.


Everything you need to know about master brand planning you should learn from your client. This presumes you have a modicum of strategy experience and an idea about what you’re being asked to deliver. In other words, a framework. (I was once asked to create a website but explained the need for a brand strategy as foundation.) Many planners use OPF (other people’s frameworks) and that’s okay.  My brand brief was borrowed from McCann-Erickson. My strategy, a one-pager comprising a claim and proof array, was pilloried, massaged and tightened from a titan of American industry and its consulting company. As Faris Yakob suggests, we are all recombinators.

Back to my premise.  Once you have figured out your framework, everything you need to learn should come from your brand. Brand Good-ats and Customer Care-abouts. These things are the groundwork for a good strategy – which is a boil down of all that is learned then packaged into the aforementioned clam and proof array.

If you are interested in this stuff – I kind of nerd out on it — write Steve at WhatsTheIdea for an example or two.




Marketing Coach?


I often speak about “pent up demand” and how important it is to brand and marketing strategy.  If people are clamoring for your product or service you only have to position it and promote it.  But if people don’t know they need your product or service — perhaps it’s a new category, or a complicated value proposition  — then you first need to educate them. Only then can you sell them.  It’s a two-step approach and much more expensive.

What’s The Idea? was initially positioned as a band consultancy. Then it was repositioned as a brand strategy firm. The latter position making it clearer I didn’t design logos or websites or collateral. I do strategy. Everybody knows what strategy is. But brand strategy?  Even brand strategists have a hard time explaining it. 

My problem is brand strategy is not easily explained on the back of a business card. Nor is it something people wake up in the morning thinking about.  It doesn’t directly solve a common problem.  But do you know the problem it does solve?  A problem that most marketers have (pent up demand)?  Poorly performing marketing.

I’m giving serious conside-ration to another reposition: marketing coach.  Everyone knows what marketing is. Everyone knows what a coach does. Two words, no ambiguity.

And guess what my key tool will be as a marketing coach: uh huh, brand strategy.  AKA “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”



Imposter Syndrome In Brand Planning


In brand planning we spend a lot of time thinking. And when you are in a thoughtful, brain-forward business you also tend to think about yourself and your job. A recent discussion in our business is about imposter syndrome. Joey Covington, member of the Jefferson Airplane sang, “Sittin’ around thinking, thinking and a thinking and it didn’t do me so good.” So, my advice to planners is don’t overthink, it can cause consternation.

Imposter syndrome may be real but it’s not a brand planner thing. Not unless you let it. Imposter syndrome among brand planners happens when you’re boiling down your information and have to make some decisions about the key value and the packaging of that value. “Who am I to make such decisions, you might ask.”  But then you just need to nut-up and commit.

This hit home for me yesterday when searching “Pearl Jam’s first concert” on YouTube, which actually was Mookie Blaylock’s first concert. (Brand issue.)  Pearl Jam went on stage that first time and committed.  Were they imposters? You tell me. Did they feel like imposters? Maybe. Certainly, some may have.  But look how that turned out. The show was a little rough around the edges but there were some transcendent moments.

Don’t second guess yourself. Commit. Learn. Correct. Experiment. And love thyself. And if you don’t, get some therapy. Like the rest of the world.



Brand Strategy and Market Discontinuity.


Whenever there is a market discontinuity, it effects brands. The supply chain crisis is one such discontinuity.  Many American companies, caught with their pants drooping, have made huge investments in reshoring or bringing manufacturing back to the States. Though some industries are addicted to manufacturing overseas, such as clothing, sneakers and electronics, smart large-scale companies have decided to build at home.

When big changes like this occur brands that invest in reshoring are apt to think about changing elements of their brand strategy.  Made in America will, no doubt, become more prominent. Delivery guarantees more common. Free shipping, quality, and longer warranties are also likely to be used more.  When markets are in transition these values are important. Especially when prices are rising. And not just because of inflation but because we are making higher quality products (hopefully).

I caution manufacturers not to alter their brand strategies from heritage values as a result of reshoring. I’m certainly open to change, but when change is everywhere, individual brands are best not to follow the wind. 

Stick to your plan. Stick to your current Claim and Proof array.  Brand strategy is built over time.

Tactics are fine, strategy finer.




One is the Loneliest Number. In Brand Strategy Frameworks.


Someone on Twitter or LinkedIn posted the question, “What are your favorite brand strategy frameworks?”  My answer was “It should be your own.”  In a perfect world, there should only be one framework.  But the world isn’t perfect. The fact that there are scads of frameworks shows why brand strategy is stuck in the mud.

I’m not going to explain my framework, though I can in one sentence.  It’s that simple.  But whatever you do don’t Google brand strategy framework.  A while ago I asked Kevin Perlmutter, a friend and one-time employee of Interbrand, who now runs brand strategy firm Limbic Brand Evolution, what the Interbrand strategy framework was.  A bit befuddled he suggested we Google “Interbrand Brand Strategy.”  Here was the result:




All these and pages more, from one company. A company at the top of the strategy pecking order.

Brand strategy as art may have multiple frameworks and approaches. Just as art does.  But brand strategy as science should have one framework. A replicable means of organizing product, experience and messaging. My company’s name is “What’s The Idea?”  In brand strategy there can only be one brand idea or claim.  It’s not What Are The ideas? It’s one idea.

Oh and one framework.




Stake Your Claim. Your Brand Claim.


I used to think 3 proof planks was the way to go for my brand strategy framework. You know, the theory of three – three being, the number of things humans can readily remember.  It was a construct borrowed from the political arena. The more I read the political news though, the more I am beginning to think three is too many. With weeks to go before the elections, political platforms are rampant: Inflation, Migration and Crime.  Or, Abortion, Guns and Infrastructure.  Wait a month and the platforms will all be different.  Three is only good if they remain the same. And that is the discipline of the brand planner. Find the 3 key care-abouts and good-ats and stick with them. Through thick and thin. (Politicians don’t think that way.  They change platforms like underwear.)

Brand strategy at What’s The Idea? is “one claim and three proof planks.”  The claim binds the brand together. ZDNet is for doers not browsers.   Northwell Health is a systematized approach to improving healthcare. Sweet Loren’s is craft cookies au naturel.  These are strategies, not taglines.  Ad agencies can come up with their own campaign memes so long as they deliver the claim. But a claim without proof planks — immovable proof planks — is advertising. Or pell-mell, tactical marketing.

Research your consumers, boil down the key values, stake your claim, and build your brand through proof. Easy.



J&J, Kenvue and the Jets.


I am a Jet Fan.  Where I come from (NY), this is understood to mean a football fan of the NY Jets.  In all other parts of the world, it means helical pieces of aluminum that cool an airplane motor.  See how important words are?  Which brings me to my real point, Johnson & Johnson is changing the brand name of its consumer products division to Kenvue.

Yes, Kenvue.

Johnson’s Baby Powder will now be called Kenvue Baby Powder or Johnson’s Baby Powder by Kenvue.

Apparently the pharmaceutical and devices part of the business is fast growing while the consumer products like Listerine and Tylenol are taking it on the chin from generics and store brands. Dilution of sales in the consumer brands is all the more reason to dial-up smart consumer brand strategy efforts. Doing the opposite is a recipe for failure. This move will accelerate revenue loss and hasten the death of this consumer products spin-off.

The pharma and device company, with much more targeted buyers, should get the new name not the other way around. I understand pharma medicine names are among the worst brand names in the hemi-verse, (Luboxi anyone?) but adding the Johnson & Johnson master brand will only help marginally. Make a clean break.

Here’s what I would do: Rename the consumer products J&J and use Johnson and Johnson (no ampersand) for pharma and devices. Simple. Maybe not approvable by the lawyers but at least it won’t blow up a perfectly brilliant consumer brand name.  

Oh, back to Jet fan.  Johnson & Johnson has nothing but great brand associations worldwide, unless you are a Jet fan.




Learn to Earn.


In my lifetime I’ve been a parking lot attendant, dishwasher, busboy, waiter, house painter, mail room attendant, advertising account manager, marketing director and brand strategist but bever a salesman.  Not until a few years ago.  On my heels with few paid consulting assignments, I needed to put some cash points on the board so I took a job selling remodeled kitchens.  I told myself that for a person in the selling business, I had never really looked someone in the eye and sold belly-to-belly.  David Ogilvy, the godfather of advertising, would have chastised me for never strapping on a pair of salesman shoes.

Stationed at big box stores with a samples table, my job was to sign up customers for estimates.  And you know what?  I sucked at it. For a couple of months, I was at the very bottom of the company. When I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, something clicked. I took it as a challenge — started diving for ground balls. I worked hard to connecting with customers and to entertain. People started listening. I started listening. And homeowners made appointments. I learned how to sell.

Shortly thereafter the company made me a trainer. I didn’t earn much, but I learned much. And that was David Ogilvy’s point.  You gotta sell to sell.


PS. For a sample of best practices learned at this sales job, write Steve at WhatsTheIdea. Some pretty savvy stuff.



Develop a Brand Strategy and Cut Once.


Brand strategy is a unique undertaking.  It’s not many things, it’s one thing. Full stop.

When done correctly, brands have one strategy.  One “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” that is sacrosanct. Inviolate.  At What’s The Idea? brand strategy is constructed using one brand claim and three proof (or support) planks. With this construct in place, every tactic thereafter is on strategy or off. It’s simple. Once the master brand strategy is done and done right, everything thereafter becomes additive and brand positive.  Everything thereafter becomes brand management. Not rethink.

At ad agencies today, departments of brand planners oversee project tactics. They enable creative team to do good work, providing them counsel on interpretations of the strategy.  It’s not necessary. Everyone in marketing is a strategist. Creatives. Project managers, Accountants. In their own little way.  With a brand strategy in hand all team members can officiate execution. No matter their function.

In carpentry, there’s a saying “measure twice cut once.”  Master brand strategy is the measure and tactics are the cutting.




Explicit Vs. Implicit Brand Values.


I was listening to the radio the other day and a spot came on for a hospitality company. The copy ended with line “A place for all occasions.”  Since a key brand strategy application is messaging (AKA advertising) I couldn’t help myself from twinging. (It’s a curse, I know.)

A place for all occasions may be meaningful to the marketing or ownership team but it’s not to the radio listener. I can just imagine the client telling the writer,  “Our revenues are good in weddings, but we need more parties” or, “I’m making money on the weekends but need bookings during the week.”  To which the copywriter might have responded, “How about we close with a new tagline A place for all…”

Here’s the thing, marketers’ problems are not consumers’ problems. You can’t tell consumers what you want them to do. You have to tell them why — thereby encouraging them to want you. Solve their problems. As a consumer, I don’t want a hospitality location for all occasions, I want one for my occasion.

That’s why brand strategy planks are values. 

Heineken once found out people were drinking their beer more during the day than at night. More as a refreshment or lunch beer.  They didn’t come out and tell people to drink at night.  They celebrated the night life and let consumers make their own decision.  Heineken gets branding.

Great brand strategy is implicit rather than explicit. Get the care-abouts right, get the good-ats right, and you get the brand right.