Have you ever wondered how the men and women who do financial reporting write headlines for daily stock market results? On in today’s NYT read “Tech and Health Care Firms Lean Broad Rally.”  Some of it is pretty easy: They look at the big winners and losers and simply declaim.  It’s data centric.

When less clear cut they need to put on analytical thinking caps, telling us how various market factors impacted buying and selling. Housing starts. Fed reports on interest rates. Impending wars.  This approach relies on implications and deductions about data and facts.  But what happens when the data is contradictory? How do they come up with a headline?  That’s what master brand planning is.  (Master brand planning drives all brand activities; not just daily marketing and communications tactics.)

Master brand strategy is never clean and tidy.  There are always scads of factors. Lots of data. Lots of targets. Everything has to go into the stock pot for the brand boil down.  Headline writers have a half day to write financial report ledes. Brand planners don’t have that luxury. We have to write a headline that encapsulates past, current and future value and our deadline is presentation day. I sometime envy reporters with more exact deadlines.



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Customer-facing research is often undertaken by consultants. Outsiders. Pollsters. Research analysts. But who are the real customer-facing experts? The employees who actually face customers. All those employees.

Many marketing organizations go straight to consumers to find out about the customer experience.  Certainly, a great place to start. But when talking about presenting a face to the customer, it’s the company’s own “servers” that are most important. They are the ones we should be studying. What language are they using? How do they build trust? Acceptance?  How do the best customer-facing people do compared with the least effective?  And I’m not talking only about selling. I’m talking satisfaction. I’m talking problem resolution. I’m talking smiling custies.

The term customer-facing is used often in the marketing department. Why is it we rarely actually study the people whose faces are in the faces of the customers?



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Nike is parting ways with 11 top executives in the face of an employee survey pointing to sexual harassment in the workplace. Facebook is reorganizing into three divisions to put senior management eyes closer to the work areas that have been a little lax in the security department.  It seems that firing and reorganizing are the reflexive methods of apologizing for public company problems.  Other typical tactics include NYT and WSJ apology letter ads and training days (see Starbucks).

Customer-facing business change is best served cold. Not right away. Business change needs to be properly thought out. Not knee-jerk. Poorly thought out change can be more disastrous than the disaster. Nike needs to live its shame for a while. As does Facebook. They need to publish and discuss what they’ve found and how they are going to deal with it. Most PR people will tell you to do something quick and put it to bed. I disagree. Companies need to spend more time living, learning and grieving. Glossing over big mistakes is a big mistake.

Act like a human and you can come back from it. Endure the shame, study it, heal – then move on.



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I was sitting in a living room a few years ago in Brownsville Brooklyn at the home of the head of a local non-profit.  There were volunteers there from all walks: educators, musicians, politicians, activists, neighbors and me. The organization, Bailey’s Café, for which I ultimately wrote a brand brief, did what I called “Good’s Work.”

The meeting started off with intros and backgrounds, and then surrounded by markers and large paper pads we got down to strategy work. The marketing guy who called the meeting, had never really done a session like this before it seemed, and asked where we wanted to start. Pin drop time. And so you know, Bailey’s Café helps underserved children and elders within the community by putting on programs, tending a community garden, fostering green issues and recycling, music and art appreciation, young girl issues and way way more. The missions of Bailey’s Café were, needless to say, varied.

To break the silence I suggesting we play the Is-Does game. We went around the room and asked “What Bailey’s Café Is” and “What Bailey’s Café Does.”  It got the room energized and began many conversations and discussions.

In brand strategy, the Is-Does is a great place to start.



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Three Dots.

No, not Amazon Dots.  Dots or periods in taglines.  You’ve seen them. Three word taglines all separated by dots.  Wrangler did it a while back with “Real. Comfortable. Jeans.”  Many others have done it.  The reason they don’t come to mind easily is because it’s a poor, lazy branding tactic. The What’s The Idea? brand framework includes three proof plank – three supports for the brand claim – so I’m not against the notion of 3 strategic measures. What I am against is 3 measures or values in a tagline. It’s a hot mess.

I’m just back from MerleFest, a wonderful annual gathering of bluegrass and American roots music. MerleFest has one of the strongest, most iconic logos in the business.  Someone, however, has decided to pair the logo with the tagline “Music. Moments. Memories.”  Oy.  What does it mean? I’ll tell you what it means – everything. And therefore nothing. The brain can’t process all that; alliteration or not.

So if you are with an ad agency that comes up with a 3 word ad line that wants to be a tagline, don’t do it. Good brand shops wouldn’t make this mistake. It’s poor brand craft.



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There’s a smart business development company by the name of Lead Forensics who recently did a demo for me. I had been through the demo a couple of years ago, but they are persistent marketers and I love persistence.  Lead Forensics does a reverse lookup on visitors to one’s website and marries that to a database of contacts, emails, corporate address and tel. numbers so you can attempt to find them.  

My demo person was friendly, convivial and understood her product quite well. She tried to understand me – using the initial contact, an unexpected contact before the demo results, and the demo itself — but didn’t quite get my brand. My biz/dev MO is very passive. I’d never start an email (never a phone call) with, “I see someone from your company has been to my website.”  When I cold-email someone, I do so with a nugget of value in it. Something very specific about the company, a competitor, or the market. It’s never about me.  

When prospecting, always try to understand your contact’s brand, motivation and operating culture. Lead Forensics is a good prospecting product. And it may work for some of my future clients, so the demo was not without value. But every customer is different.  And when selling, the seller needs to view them as such.




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In one of Hilary Clinton’s campaign speeches on the topic of “playing the women card’ she uses a meme-able statement “Deal Me In.”  She liked it so much she used it repeatedly in her Democratic National Convention speech. In context, it was a wonderful, powerful sentiment. It became a campaign theme and meme.  

A member of the Hillary brand police should have had the foresight, however, to quash that little ditty. If you are looking at Hillary negatives, you’ll note that deals are not the best part of her legacy.  And deals in which she and Bill were dealt in on were the grist for books, opinion pieces and TV investigation shows. Being inside, was also not a personal strength.

Giving traction to the meme was a mistake. It had more ballast than “I’m with her” but offered byproduct negatives that needn’t have been raised.  Words matter. When creating memes for politics, choose carefully.


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Social Media is a great tactic for marketers. But how great is yet to be determined. There’s a famous quote from John Wannamaker who once said, and I paraphrase, “I know half of my advertising is working, problem is, I’m not sure which half.”  If retailer extraordinaire Wannamaker says only half his advertising is working, what might a modern retailer say about social media? Twenty percent? Thirty percent?

The reason social is such a force in marketing today is it’s cheap. Advertising is expensive. PR is expensive. Anyone with and internet connect and fingers can blog, Tweet, post a picture and spit out marketing rhymes on the web.

I knew social and online advertising were in trouble 10 years ago when agency people started saying “Online is also good for branding, not just clicks and transactions.”

When I’m writing a marketing plan for a small company, I go heavy-in with social and search. Done well, done with good consumer intelligence and smart creative, social can build traffic. But traffic blips are not always sustainable. Build on your blips with some traditional advertising, promotion, PR and CRM you have a better chance to build a brand.





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The hottest advertising topic of the day is digital ad privacy. Mark Zuckerberg brought his suit to Washington last week to answer questions about privacy before Congress and now those interested understand they can turn privacy settings on. Where and how to do it may be a bit of a slog, but at least they know.

Privacy and data analytics are important. Ish. Errant misuse of that data for illegal means is a matter for the law.  That is important. But that’s not advertising.

For ad girls and guys, what’s more important to the business is the state of digital creative. It’s horrendous.  The worst form of offline ad craft I refer to as “We’re Here” advertising; basically, it tells consumers what you sell and where to buy. The worst form of digital advertising is “Click Here” advertising; it does the same thing but with less effort.  The digital ad footprint is expanding in terms of pixels and load but the real estate is still small. Therefore, the creative is ghostly poor. It’s hard to even characterize as creative. Congress should call Bob Greenberg to the mic and ask about that.

Poor digital creative is doing more to hurt the ad business than cookies, opt-outs and database junkies ever will.

Make privacy settings easier to access. Put bad guys behind bars. And fix the damn digital creative.



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When I ask new clients “What is your product strategy?” I get a funny look. Typically, they respond with something like “Make the best possible product, meet the specific needs of the customer, and provide it with a level of service the exceeds their expectation.” Or some such goulash.

Even service companies will use similar words.

Once that gibberish is out of the way, I dig down deep on product (or service) — past the derma to the muscle, the circulatory system and bone. I’m looking for tangibility. What makes your beer taste different? And don’t say the natural ingredients. We always get there, but it takes time. There is always a leverageable differentiator…or four.   

Once the client and I agree on a product strategy, it’s time to ask about the experience strategy. And finally the messaging strategy. Some teeth-pulling may be required to get actual answers, but it’s necessary. When all three strategies are on the table we look to see if there is alignment.

Once misalignment is acknowledged, work can begin. Organization can begin. Brand strategy can begin.



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