I write a lot of sales training stuff for one client.  The company does a good deal of cold call intercepts at stores such as BJs and Costco.   As someone who never really did any direct product selling – ads and brand strategy don’t count – I needed to get out of my comfort zone and into the selling zone. It took some time — but looking fast-moving custies in the eyes and learning how to “pitch” by trial an error, was quite a learning experience. David Ogilvy would have been proud.  

First there is the approach — customers walking toward you. Then the engage, getting them to slow, stop and talk. Then the position and sell.  And finally the close…get the fish off the hook and into the boat.

One tenet I’ve long believed in that works across all these sales steps is “education.” All people like to learn. They may not like sitting in a class room, but there isn’t a brain on the planet that doesn’t want a little stim. A little new information. We are curious animals. So, all you salespeople out there, subscribe to the unbeknownst, the never seen, and the inheard of.

It works. Peace.                   


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Brand Leavening.

Yesterday I posted about brand compliance. Today it’s about the next step, brand leavening. With a strong brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks) and a smart CEO or brand compliance office to push the strategy, leavening of the brand idea can occur. As the understanding of the brand idea and planks grow within a company, life all around becomes easier. Everyone knows what they are doing and why. When a brand strategy is practiced throughout a company a more collegial feeling grows among employees.

Why is it that a 4-year college grad roots for his/her college sports team(s) for decades, while an employee of 6 years may not give second thought?  There’s a fealty to colleges that many companies can’t duplicate. A leavening takes place at college. A purposeful commitment.

Companies and brands with well=leavened brand strategies engender loyalty. It’s how one enculturates an organization.  Tink about it as my Norwegian Aunt would have said.




Tags: , , , , , ,


I’m not a big fan of changing the name of a brand or company.  That said, there are certainly times when a name-change is in order. Shells Only is a local brand that has been around for a while. (A shell being the bones of a house — the two by for frame onto which and into which homes are constructed.) As you will see by the side panel of this truck, Shells Only now offers “complete home improvements.” It does dormers, bathrooms, kitchens, extensions, new home construction and “so much more.”

As memorable as the Shells Only name is, it doesn’t step up to the Is-Does test. The best names provides a clear picture of what the product or service Is and hopefully a view into what it Does. When you keep a legacy name around that only partly defines the business, especially if the name doesn’t account a large part of total revenue, it’s no longer a good name.

Name specificity is not an under-rated quality in consumer marketing.



Tags: , , , , , ,

Compliance is a medical term with huge impact on patient outcomes. Patients who comply with prescription drug plans, treatment modalities and lifestyle changes live healthier lives.  

Compliance is also a word that comes up in brand strategy discussions. Brand strategy, an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging, guides commerce in very predicable ways. And if compliance is high, success is high.

How does a company insure brand strategy compliance? One way is to install a Brand Compliance Office. Typically, this function would lie with the Chief Marketing Officer. But the realities of managing revenue growth, marketing spend, staff and profit don’t really allow time for compliance. The title of brand manager might suggest someone who looks after compliance, but they don’t wield the power. It a “herding cats” type of job. And some cats are way up the corporate ladder.

A Brand Compliance Officer needn’t be a 6 figure job but it’s an important job. Appointing someone to watch over internal stakeholders and make them comply with the plan is a sure-fire way of strengthening brand, sales and margin.




Tags: , , , , , , ,

One of my memes on the web is “beyond the dashboard planner.”  (I’m first in Google yet my goal is to be first with “beyond the dashboard.”  So on I type.)

The planning and strategy business is parsed into 4 approaches. The biggest segment is the Rearview Mirror planner — those who look at what has gone before to help plan the future. The second segment is the Side View Mirror planner, who looks backward but also at the fast approaching from the rear.  Think Anheuser Busch/InBev watching the smaller but quickly growing craft beer category. Then comes the fairly new school category called Dashboard planners. Those of the Moneyball or 538 Blog data jockey school. Viewers of “the data and nothing but the data.”

Beyond the Dashboard planners look back. They also at the fast approaching and statistical. But then they do something smart with the learning. They think primarily about the future.  That dark-bright place where nobody’s ever been.  Yes, it’s scary. But, oh so human. It’s where all the big whooshes in business are born.  

Every big brand needs a beyond the dashboard planner.




Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Branding Polemics.

I saw the word polemic in an article about the alt-right and had to use it in a post. I’m a brand polemist. At What’s The Idea? brand strategy is defined as an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  In and of itself, that is controversial. Many brand agencies don’t consider product or experience in their work, they cut straight to messaging. 

When brand strategy involves product it means the claim and proof planks inform product features, composition, even formula. When brand strategy relates to experience, it informs in-store, customer journey, website content and usability. It may involve media usage, e.g., Twitch Points (Google it). But mostly, brand strategy is about messaging, advertising, campaigns and communications.   The comms and graphic presentation of a brand being the bread and butter of the branding business.

The contrarian polemic is one that puts product and experience on par, or even ahead, of messaging. Get the first two right and the last one has to follow.



Tags: , , , , , ,

The Nusra Front, a Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate, has rebranded (the NYT words, not mine) as the Levant Conquest Front.  Never in my lifetime has branding been more life and death. With the rebranding, which will heretofore be referred to as renaming, the Levant Conquest front has stated it is a local terrorist organization, targeting only the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. It no longer intends to target the west. It would not surprise me if this announcement was made via a press release. Such is the social media and terror media today.

After 5 billion words, America’s news media can’t even decides what to called ISIS; often referring to it by all three recognized names (ISIL and Daesh being the other two).

The fact that branding has now found its way into terrorist circles may sicken but it does explain the sophistication of networks, recruiting and geo-political posturing.

Moving forward, I refuse to use the word “brand” in association with terror groups. I wish the media would join me. It tarnishes a business that is all about hope and possibility.

Peace. For reals.        


Tags: , , , , ,

wendys_mascot_logo“Quality is our recipe” is the new tagline for fats food chain Wendy’s. It adorns all the stores. Quality is an industrial word. It’s not a food word. If you go to a Lidia Bastianich or Eric Ripert restaurant you’re not going to savor a meal and talk quality.

The key to branding is finding the right “claim” and proving it every day. I use three proof planks to support the claim. Three provides focus. Were I to parse the quality claim for Wendy’s I might select “ripeness” for vegetables, “natural” for ingredients, e.g., less additives, few GMOs, real sugar, and “immaculate facilities.” I’m just riffing here but you might actually build a nice story with this strategy. The problem, however, is the word quality. A far as claims go, it’s in the neighborhood, but a Norwegian neighborhood.  Quick, name a tasty Norwegian food.

Brand strategy claims need poetry. Humanity. They need aspiration and emotion. Wendy’s can do better. This is a company that has always been ad campaign driven, not brand strategy driven.      



Tags: , , , , , ,

Over the last 30-40 years the business environment has evolved from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. We are making a lot less things and selling a lot more service, software and subscription. If you ask a small service economy business owner, say, in the financial planning business, if her company has brand, she is likely to say “yes.” On probe, she’ll offer up her company name. Maybe logo. Even $75 million companies in the service sector would agree they have a brand. But ask the CEO or marketing director and you’d get the same answer: name and logo.

The fact is, most service companies don’t get branding. Sure, they understand signage, advertising and graphic standards, but they don’t know it to be the “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” branding really is.

When your business, as my dad used to say, goes up and down in the elevator every day, it’s hard to see it as a brand rather than a group of people. But, oh, it is. Service companies have a leg up on product companies, because unlike products, people are living, breathing, intelligent beings with friends. But service economy companies need strategies. Brand strategies.

For examples of service economy brand strategies, please email steve@whatstheidea.com




Tags: , , , , , ,

« Older entries