The foundation of the What’s The Idea? brand strategy framework is “claim and proof.” Say what you are good at and what consumers want, then prove it every day. Get the claim and proof right and you won’t have to reinvent the marketing wheel every year.

I don’t mean to pick on Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center whose claim “More Science (actual claim), Less Fear (marketing benefit)” is terrific, but they provide a good example of my dumbing down the proof point. In a print ad that ran this weekend, MSKCC supported its claim with their history of breaking new ground in immunotherapy. But then they dropped the ball in providing proof of how it works. Perhaps they thought we weren’t smart enough to read longer copy. (“People don’t read copy,” I’ve heard more than once.) I am aware of a home improvement company who cautions field reps to “keep it simple.” “Don’t give consumers too much to think about, you may talk them out of an appointment.”

Whether MSKCC or a home remodeler, it’s important to find proof that allows consumers to believe you. To trust you. To remember you. Good proof (read yesterday’s post for an example) is the fastest way to sales conviction.




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Smart advertising and branding make positive impressions on consumers by design. Impressions that predispose people to purchase.

One of the cornerstones of the What’s The Idea? brand planning rigor is “proof.”  The most powerful form of proof is the demonstration.  As a kid growing up one of the better demonstration examples was for Crazy Glue where a construction worker using his arms to hold his helmet to his head was lifted off the ground by a beam Crazy Glued to the helmet.  

Here’s a modern day proof demonstration that may actually change U.S. governance.  In a tight political race in Missouri, democrat Jason Kander is facing entrenched republican Roy Blunt. It’s a pivotal race that may alter the current senate majority. In the spot Mr. Kander, a veteran, tells the camera how Mr. Blunt questions his support of gun rights. He explains, as do most dems, that he’s not against guns, just against loose regulation. If you close your eyes and it could be an argument heard in any state — or even the presidential election. What makes the oratory unique, however, is that Mr. Kander is delivering his lines while assembling an AK-47 assault rifle. Blindfolded. Try this Mr. Blunt, says Kander.

The race has turned in favor of Mr. Kander. The ad is the reason. Well thought out demonstrations (of proof) are memorable, extensible and can change opinions. Use them.





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Know More How.

I’m always on the lookout for arguments supporting brand strategy. A brand strategy, as I define it, being an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”

Many marketing plans have firm business and sales objectives: increase stock price 4 points, slow market share by 1% per annum, reduce materials cost by 2%, increase sales 150%. These are important, hard metrics. Metrics with which no one can argue.

Accomplishing objectives is the purview of strategy. In marketing this is where things get problematic. Many marketers go to the marketing playbook. If there was a tactics store (An agency? A consultant?), they would shop there — given the money. Typical strategies one might find in a tactical plan are: customer acquisition, increased sales-per-customer, improved retention, increased efficiency in production or marketing. All are business imperatives. Sadly, they’re generic. Everybody has them in their marketing plans.

Where the road curves toward the light is with brand strategy. Brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks) provides the “how.”  Patton’s strategy was “kill more bastards than your foe.” Generic. But his brand strategy equivalent included things like “outflank, tank destroyers, thrust line, etc.”  Specific to the situation. And all actionable. 

I’m not going to go all Sun Tzu on you but will ask “What elements of your strategy are unique to you, differentiated, and non-generic?  What elements can every employee understand and personally act-upon? These are the elements of the brand strategy — the how. Know more how.    


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I’ve often heard advertising referred to as a mixture of art and science.  I agree. The thing about art is, well, it’s art.  You assume the artists is doing it because he or she wants to make a living but that may not always be the case.  I’ve worked with artists while brand planning on a web start-up and everyone I spoke to wanted to make money. They didn’t paint or sculpt, however, following a sales strategy.

The art that is part of advertising does have a sales strategy. Get attention, create interest and move product. The art may be pretty, mellifluous, poetic – if it doesn’t sell it isn’t likely to reappear.  

In branding, art and science are also important. The brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks) is the “selling structure” —  the science — and the selling tactics are the art.  Brand strategy is a vessel (structure) filled with art. And the art can change. Best practices suggest muscle memory is built with campaign-able ideas, yet the reality is as long as the art supports the strategy, the efforts are brand-positive.  That’s not to say all art is good art. So brand managers are paid to say “out with the bad, in with the good.”

Art and science are innately human traits. Those who get it right in marketing are the winners.




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In the NYT today Dwight Garner described Bob Dylan’s lyrics as “tumbling.” Can you think of a better word to describe them?  Were I to pick one word to convey Dylan’s lyrics it would be that.  Tumbling means down the fall line. Effortless with an occasional jolt. Natural. Prone to the gravitational force.

I was reading Mr. Garner’s article and it reminded me what a poor writer I am. In my business I don’t need to write well, I just need to write well enough to incite marketing and creative. So long as my writing doesn’t get in the way, I can make a nice living writing brand strategy. (Google “brand planners prayer.”)  Bob Dylan uses words and with his own poetic vocabulary to define American music.  He does it because he can and because he loves to.  (I’d like to know how he did in English class.)  

Writing well, having a great voice, being beautiful are not requisites for a rich life. Trying is what matters.  Kudos to Mr. Dylan. Thanks for the lesson.

In these weird, weird times, Bob Dylan makes me proud to be an American.




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Following is a mission statement from food start-up Smart Mills.

“We exist to positively impact the way food is made, enriching lives and bodies through delicious, convenient foods made from clean nutritious ingredients.” 

Mission statements often contain multiple commas and conjunctions; they tend to cast a wide net. As mission statements go, this one is actually modest. It doesn’t try to do too, too much.

Here is a brand strategy claim developed for a cookie start-up:

“Craft cookies, au naturel.”

Almost everything said about Smart Mills could be said about the cookie start-up, but with way fewer words. A powerful brand strategy is indelible. Why is that? Because it’s focused. It is not six things or four things.  It’s one big idea. An idea that is a customer care-about and a brand good-at. A brand strategy is comprised of one claim and three proof planks.

The human memory can remember one big idea. And it will believe that idea if proven in an efficient, impactful fashion. So by all means marketers write your mission statements. But when it comes time to selling, blow them up and create the most important selling tool you have at your disposal. A brand strategy.



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People often ask me how I use the different social media properties. My answer: Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn for business network, Instagram for pictures and my artier side and Twitter, well, Twitter it’s just “me.” It reflects my personality. What does that mean? Honestly, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, it’s about my personal brand.  The total me — reflecting my unadorned personality and complete life interests.  As a brand planner, I can often get to a person’s persona fastest thru Twitter.

Point two.  Twitter is up on the shopping block, with many names bandied about as possible buyers, but one name is missing. There is one social play that remains happily on the sideline. One player who will benefit the most if Twitter gets absorbed into something else – screwed up by another owner who tries to monetize and grow it beyond the current 330M users. And that’s Facebook. If Twitter starts to suck and becomes something it shouldn’t be, Facebook will win by default.

Twitter is important. It’s not for everybody, but it is for everybody. You can’t watch TV or read a paper without some reference to Twitter.  Nations and wars will be lost and won because of Twitter.



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There is a battery of questions I use when doing brand discovery; questions I ask of senior executives at the client company.  One such has to do with product or service roadmap. Today I’m thinking the question should be focused to probe around “consumer health.” Past road map questions may have prompted answers about efficiency or lower cost but as many markets are moving toward healthier life choices it makes sense to ping this way.

“What are you doing with your product or service that will promote healthier consumers or a healthier planet?”

When Tyson Chicken invests in Beyond Meat, it is making a bet on healthy. When Campbell Soup Company bought Bolthouse Farms Juices, it was a bet on healthy.  When fast food companies stop frying French fries in trans fats, it was investing in healthy. These are telling moves and important investments. They undergird brand strategy and must be understood.

A brand with a conscience is a brand that sleeps well at night. And sleep is not an over-rated activity.



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Salesforce should buy Twitter but keep it as a standalone company. Attempting to integrate Twitter into the Salesforce fabric, though it would offer great excitement and return, would make messy both product services.  Life’s too short not to try something like this, Marc Benioff might be thinking, but he shouldn’t do it with an eye toward an integrated platform. The puzzle pieces just won’t fit. Not organically.

Mr. Benioff should buy the company. And allow it to resurrect itself with fresh cash, time and vision. But that vision isn’t the same that has fueled Salesforce.

If you are managing a brand well, you are managing a business well. Brand management is all about staying within the lines of a business winning organizing principle. Adhere and innovate, but stay between the lines. When you merge two companies like Salesforce and Twitter, you’re evolving and adding new lines to that organizing principle. It like adding new genes to the pool. Especially for companies as large and successful as these two. Buy, lift and separate.

Peanut butter and ham do not a great sandwich make.




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I often wonder if the targets for my business truly understand what I do. Those targets, CMOs, directors of marketing and small and mid-size business owners, read “brand consultancy” and get the consultant part, but may not truly understand the depth of the word brand. Brand today is both a noun and a verb.  

Many think brand is a mark or logo. Something that, through design, helps consumers with product identity. The whole branded cattle history thing. For people who view brands this way a brand consultancy is all logo, name, style guide and, perhaps, tagline. When AT&T spun off Lucent in the 90s, the whole process, exquisitely implemented by the way, cost millions. A year later, the company had a new name, logo, building signs, stock symbol and ad campaign. But not a brand strategy. (Peter Kim’s “$14B tech startup” aside.)

The reality is, especially in today service economy, a brand is a living breathing thing. My definition of brand strategy as “an organizing principle for Product, Experience and Messaging.” Most of my targets understand this definition better. In fact, they are more apt to acknowledge needing and organizing principle that they are a brand strategy.  

So moving forward my mission it to educate my targets as to this new definition. It will be a long road but one I expect will redistribute marketing wealth in my direction. Onward.




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