Brand Strategy Tarot Card Number 4.





The fourth tarot card to be turned over during the What’s The Idea? brand strategy demo is the “About” section from the company website. The About page is the most important place to get the brand strategy right, yet it’s often poorly constructed and amateurish. Not so, for large multinationals who have seasoned communications people and PR hands nearby, but it’s often the case among midsize and small companies who tangled in their underwear.

Here’s an About page from nCipher:

nCipher Security, a leader in the general purpose hardware security module market, is now an Entrust Datacard company, delivering trust, integrity and control to business critical information and applications.

Not the worst in the world, but it assumes knowledge of “hardware security modules.”

The Is-Does is fundamental to the About Section. What a brand Is and what a brand Does. Getting bogged down in where, how many, target and the like only confuses. In technology, you are either in hardware, software or platform (web services). Say that. Once you start piling on things like trust, integrity and control, you start to diminish.  

In consumer products be what you are first, then and only then add value qualifiers.

Local brewer Devil’s Foots Beverage Company gets it:

“Devils Foot Brewing. Asheville, NC Craft Beverage Company. All Natural N/A Bevs made with Organic Roots and Fruits.
(N/A refers to non-alcoholic, not North American.) Also, I would suggest beverage over brewing, rather than using both.)  

When you write the About page, don’t get carried away. Tell them what it Is and what it does. Don’t bury it in blather.



Brand Strategy Tarot Card Number 3.


Home pages are tough. As a brand or company landing page, the words, visuals and strategy are the first thing a consumer or searcher sees.  Unless you have the brand recognition of Coca-Cola , Amazon or Taco Bell, I’m a fan of communicating the Is-Does on the home page: what a brand Is and what a brand Does.  The worst thing one can do, leading to a high bounce rate, is not explain the Is-Does on the home page. For a brand, a nice product shot is more than appropriate. If a service, some quick visualization of function. The idea of the home page is to leave no possible confusion as to what one is selling. Of course, naming is important. If the home page says Mission Health System, you can get away with not having doctors on the page. If Blue Point Brewing, you needn’t show the suds.

Once the Is-Does is covered, the other purpose of the home age is to convey the brand claim. Not claims. Claim. There can be only one overriding value of a brand – with all deference to “Tastes great, less filling.” If a home page offers up multiple values, the brand jig is up. Brands are allowed 3 support planks, but all must directly bolster the claim. It’s simple brand blocking and tackling.

If your home page scatters values, you don’t have a home — you have multiple homes. Therefore no home at all.


(There are 6 Brand Strategy Tarot Cards. Brand Strategy Tarot Cards is a diagnostic offering of What’s The Idea? For more information write


Intentional is the New Authenticity.


Oy.  Sorry if I come off as crabby sometimes. I know, I know, life is too short to sit around finding fault with stuff – jesus (lower case j). I live in a town that really cares about sustainability, common sense culture, and egalitarianism.  Also, health and planet. All really good things. But I’m originally from NY and come with a built-in bullshit gauge. And trust me, I’m not saying anyone in marketing who uses the word “intentional” is a bullshitter. In fact, I’d probably like them and want to do business with them over the majority of people. But certainly, we can be intentional without haling it.

As for Authenticity, another marko-babble word that has long irked me, it too has to go.  The only people who talk about authenticity are either the inauthentic or obsessed with it – and that’s a bore.  Let’s just be authentic, shall we?  As in not bullshit. As in be a normal person.

Brand planners are the first to point out the common. And fight against it. When I wrote “For Doers, Not Browsers” for ZDNet back in the day I was fighting the common. Deep down it may have been a commodity claim but it certainly was packaged with sauce.

Let’s stop talking about intention and authenticity and as the anti-gun people are saying “Do something.”




Brand Strategy Card Number 2.


Let’s face it, Google has supplemented our brain power like no other tool in the world. Its mission is something like “organizing the world’s information so it’s one click away.”  Every directory ever published, every map, and phone book have passed into oblivion thanks to the genius of Google. And businesses know this because consumers know this. 

Tarot Card number 2 is a snapshot of the Google results page above the fold (what can be seen without cursoring down) following a search of your brand name. When someone searches for you on Google, with what are they presented?

If an established brand, consumers are likely to see a large box on the right side of the page with company incidentals — what Google and the algorithm have gleaned, e.g., owner, headquarters, inception date, picture/logo, stuff like that.  On the left side of the page is information more controlled by the user — typically beginning with copy from meta tags and labels associated with the home page.  Other copy is hopefully scraped from paragraphs about what the brand Is and what the brand Does (Is-Does) often included there are some other organizing subheads like: About, Careers, Location. This area can be a mess of copy and bullet — not the best presentation of a brand and its value.

One can’t organize their brand’s Google results page because it is part machine driven and part human and coder driven. And in many cases the coders don’t even work for the company.

As all earthlings use Google many times each day, the ability to organize and synthesize your search results page is a key to brand building and brand management.  


(There are 6 Brand Strategy Tarot Cards. Brand Strategy Tarot Cards is a diagnostic offering of What’s The Idea? For more information write


Brand Strategy Tarot Card Number 1.


I am working on a presentation called Brand Strategy Tarot Cards.  My intent is to turn over 6 cards of branded content and do a reading. A reading of what these 6 fairly common pieces of content convey about the brand.  I’ve been playing with what the 6 cards are, but now will lock them down. 

Up first is brand or company Name. The name is spoken more often than not by consumers so the aural version is important. Therefore the first Tarot card will not be a card at all, but spoken words. “Pass the What’s The Idea? please.” “Hey, would you get Whats The Idea? on the phone?”  Of course, there are full spoken names and shorthand names. Coca-Cola and Coke, are famous examples.

After I evaluate the communication value of the name, we can turn over the first Tarot card which will be the packaging of the name — including the logo and tagline, if there is one. We’ll assess what the logo does to convey or reassert the name and then look to see if it conveys or furthers any particular meaning or value. When first introduced what meaning did the Nike swoosh bring to the brand communication for instance.

Lastly, we’ll evaluate the tagline. Has it resonated? Has it changed every few years? Is it an advertising tagline? Many times, when the name is bad and the mark not particularly meaningful, the tagline carries the water. It’s a bail out tactic for branding. A startup I worked at used the meaningless name Zude. The logo was colorful, original typography but to consumers it was meaningless beyond color and playfulness. The tagline “Feel Free” was broadly grounded in the product functionality (a drag and drop web authoring tool) but kind of meaningless without a communicative name and mark.

Fort Tarot Card number 2, tune in tomorrow.




Independence and Brand Planning.


My business is a private business.  I’m not a public company owned by shareholders. What does that mean?  Well, let’s imagine my partner/wife was the boss and she had to move the P&L in a constant upward direction every quarter. I’d be fucked. 

What’s The Idea? has good years and bad years. It’s not always tied to the energy I put into business development. I’m always on. A firm believer in making your own luck, I understand demand for my services is fluid. Educating marketers that brand strategy is a business winning concern is not easy. Because not many understand strategy. They understand tactics.  My board of directors, were I managing 100s of planners, would not completely get that. They would bring pressure. “Work harder. More hours. More outreach.” Pressure. “Increase visibility. Cut costs.”

As a private “single-shingle” brand planner I answer to me. My home is my office. My credit card statement is my expense manager. My checking account, the P&L. Yes, this can be a hand-to-mouth business. But there’s mad learning in that.  We learn when we operate on the edge.  We learn when we operate amongst raging success.  I’m not so sure we learn well when we have outside pressures not of our own making. Learning is the fulcrum of brand strategy.

Independence. As my kid’s used to say “I yike it.”



Another Use for A Brand Brief.


I have a client with a very successful technology company. His client list is a Who’s Who of other tech companies, the likes of which anyone would be proud.  When it comes to recruiting top talent, he competes with those same companies — even though the big boys are house hold names and he has a small firm. He often wins those recruitment competitions.

I love this company. They do so many things right. They’re growing in head count. They’re giving back to the category by sharing IP. They are working hard to be inclusive in what is typically a homogenous technology landscape. And they incentivize women to enter the business through generous programs, while not paying lip service to equality.   

As part of the welcome packet, all new employees receive the What’s The Idea? brand brief.  Mark Pollard has said many times “Strategy is your words” and this client wants employees to understand why they do what they do. The brand brief is the backstory that culminates in the “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  It guides employees throughout their daily rigors. And behaviors. And deeds.

You may call it culture. You may call it ethos. I call it brand strategy.




How the Web Affects Marketing.


I am old enough to know what marketing was like before the advent of the internet. Before Google. When the telephone and printed business directories were the consumer research tools of the day. I speak to tons of marketing newbies and for most of them the “go to” tactic is search. Paid and organic.  It’s what they know, what they were weaned on.  But the web is a giant ocean with bays and tides and marshes and an array of currents that make successful search complicated and difficult.

So-called search experts, who are mostly coders and analytics nerds, some with a bit of design sense, are the primary vendors of choice for small businesses today. These experts position themselves as search scientists but are really website developers.  Certainly, not marketers. Go to their websites and sniff around. Very little marketing finesse.

Before the web, marketers had to be more strategic. People were their customers, not the algorithm, not search terms. The product and its inherent value were the foundation of marketing. Not the ebb and flow of the internet. I’m not advocating old school shit. I love the web. (It’s the only way one can collapse all the steps to a sale into a single transaction.) But it’s best used downstream as one arrow in the quiver. It’s not the quiver.

Product. Place. Price and Promotion should still rule the day. (Positioning, the key to brand planning, is a function of all four.)





I know it may be sacrilege but I’m not the world’s biggest Beatles fan.  The Stones were my thing growing up. Perhaps less controversial, I was not a fan or follower of Queen. So shoot me.  But let me say this, having seen the movies “Yesterday” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I am a big Kool-Aid drinker now.  Could it be that I’m older and more accepting — more Zen-like? Maybe.  But the amazing backstories and cinematic storytelling driving those two movies turned everything for me.  In fact, I went to the see “Yesterday” thinking I wasn’t going to like it — the trailer not being its greatest sales piece.  In both cases the movie-making craft, the backstory was brilliant.

Those in the business of selling things and building brands need to understand the craft of backstory.  Not just story. But contextual backstory. If we jump straight to advertising, you might correctly argue it’s hard to do backstory. Especially in a :30 spot or page of print. But the good ones try. And the good ones can deliver deep context quickly.

If you want to convince someone of something new or change their opinion of something old, you can’t spend your time selling. You have to deliver some humanity. Some subject empathy. True thought stimulation. Make the viewer a participant, not a consumer. That’s what backstory does.




An Internship Idea.


Ton of companies hire interns. Let’s face it, you get good, motivated talent for free and milk it. Sometimes you get some truly cool work that has an economic impact. Internships are the haps, as Dave Robicheaux or Cletus might say.  But is there an opportunity to do more with an internship from the company point of view? I believe so.

When the engagement is over, sponsoring companies should ask the question “What did we learn from this intern?” and do a write up. It’s a smart exercise. If the company didn’t learn much, it wasn’t trying. Interns go through a vetting process, so they were deemed capable to begin with. And if the intern wasn’t motivated to perform that’s important learning. And needs to be fixed.  But the hope is that the intern will perform. And will provide value. And that value will teach the hiring company a thing or two. After all these tyro employees are next gen consumers.   

Companies like to take pictures of their graduating interns. They promote intern fun on Instagram. They post thank you videos at the end of the summer. But what really inspires an intern is knowing they had an impact. It’s the least we can offer. Whet the way for growth.