July 2015

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e cigarettes

Here’s a category that could use a little brand work: e-cigarettes. While listing to news radio this morning (a shaving thing) I heard a commercial for NY’s largest selling brand of e-cigarettes: Logic Premium. Triple take. Logic Premium e-cigarettes? Come se kidding me?

So I Googled top selling e-cigarette brands to see if there was any good branding (starting with the name, of course) and there was none. Here are some of the leading brands nationally:

Vaporfi, Green Smoke, Apollo, Halo, South Beach Smoke, Ever Smoke, Social Lites, White Cloud, V2, Smoke Tip. And of course, Logic Premium.

Here’s a chance for a strong brand to own the category – to be the category– and they all opted to save some benjamins and poop out amateur names. A pot head two blunts in could have come up with 10 better names. In a half an hour. Aren’t these things colloquially called “vapes?” Street names are often way better.

Think about the famous names of old time cigarette brands. Marlboro, Lucky Strike, Camel…those were brands. Tobacco advertising was the haps back in the 60s. It’s where careers were made. The e-cig category is pathetic. I suspect it has bottomed out. Peace.

 

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When I when I started my blog What’s The Idea? in 2007 I had a tough decision to make. Originally, I wanted to call it What’s The Big Idea?, thinking big ideas were better than regular old ideas. Eight years out, I’m happy with my decision to leave off the “big.”griffin farley beautiful mind logo

The reality is, as much I seek big ideas for my brand strategy clients, sometimes just getting them to agree to an idea is enough. Big, bold, brave ideas are currency of the planning realm these days. According to Suzanne Powers, chief strategy office at McCann-Erickson, it is one reasons Team Catfish won the Griffin Farley Beautiful Minds competition last night at Google. And she wasn’t wrong. But “big” can sometime be a synonym for brazen. (And I get it, most of my brand strategies contain one word that make CEOs and marketing officers uncomfortable.) But brand ideas don’t need to be huge, or poetic, or brilliantly layered — they just need to be clean. More importantly they need to be followed. Enforced. And enculturated.

Coke’s “refreshment” wasn’t a big idea. It was a smooth sailing idea. “We know where you live” for Newsday wasn’t a big idea, it was a comfortable idea.

A brand strategy idea (the claim) doesn’t need to be big to be effective. It must, however, be believable, relevant and easy to understand. Peace!

P.S. Great job last night Sarah Watson, Angela Sun and BBH.

 

 

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Brand journalists aren’t for every company. Certainly most small companies can’t afford them. The first brand journalist I ran into worked for JWT, a forward thinking ad agency. He worked on Microsoft and helped the brand do some really smart things in the B2B space. But he worked for the agency. When I moved client side to an educational technology company, I was lucky enough to have a chairman with enough vision to see the value of a brand journalist. We hired a photographer/videographer who was also a wonderful visual storyteller. His ability to make people feel things was amazing and powerful.

Thomas Simonetti was his name and he came to us with a newspaper background. The company we worked for, Teq, had a great brand strategy and I helped Thomas understand it: the claim and the proof planks. The plan was Thomas’s story guide. His mission: Go forth, research, compile and communicate stories that convince consumers that are what we say we are. We do what we say we do. We live how we say we live.

A traditional journalist has no agenda. That’s what makes them good. Brand journalists have an agenda. And that’s what make brands great. And rich. And successful. Peace.

 

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To date, branding has been about setting consumer expectation. We use ads and customer experiences to create an expectation of what will happen when we use a product. With L’Oreal, our hair color is movie star beautiful. Purchasing Apple products makes us tech-forward. Insurance from Geico saves us 15%.

I call this approach benefit pounding. We recite and repeat the benefit and hope it sticks. It’s an age old branding trick that serves up an idea ad nauseam, hoping for a resonance. Benefit pounding for many brands has become context. I watched a Google insights (little i) YouTube video with David Droga yesterday and he smartly talked about context. He suggested we get to know the context consumers are bringing to their consumption of our marketing messages, before we start building. It’s good tradecraft. Context 101 dictates that marketers and branders deal with benefit pounding…and use it to their advantage. Sure we can hide our “pound” in a story, but consumers are conditioned for see through it. Obvert it, invert it. It’s good theater.

Proper brand design sets the benefit topography. It frees smart creative people to deliver benefits in more unexpected, context-breaking ways.

Peace.

 

 

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Here’s a branding fundamental. If you make a claim, invest in proving it. With all deference to the new school of marketing and advertising storytellers, marketing isn’t a story. It’s selling. Preselling. And post selling.

Stories as inputs fuel the claim. Stories may actually deliver the proof, but if consumers remember the story and not the claim you’re off track.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is a genius organization. While I sell strategies that redistribute marketing wealth, they save lives. MSKCC’s ad agency Pereira O’Dell helped find a brilliant, real, and differentiated branding idea “More Science. Less Fear.” Great claim. But I read a print ad by MSKCC this weekend and it contained no proof of claim. So I went to the website set to see the promised video story. The URL ended in /more science. I found the story I was after on Danny. It was a :30 video – no science. Undeterred, I followed another link provided at the end of the short video for a longer form Danny story. Lots of fireman, beautiful film. No science.

MSKCC deals with more science in one day than Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. They got the claim right but seem afraid of the proof. Come on ya’ll!

Peace.     

 

 

 

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tennis volley

Writing my post yesterday, I realized a tendency to be a little “teachy” and “preachy.” My written work needs more examples. I will attempt to do so. There are lots of example in the old brain, they’re just not near the top of the flotsam.

A big part of my brand and strategic planning rigor revolves around claim and proof. Most marketing is 80% claim, 20% proof. It’s the boast, boast, boast and hope, hope, hope people buy school. I’ve built a business around understanding, prioritizing and bringing to life “reasons to believe.”

Google is, and has been, a kick ass company. In a world where youthfulness is lauded, Google loves the metaphor that they aren’t really grownups yet. The company I’ve dinged for its “culture of technological obesity” recently brought on board Ruth Porat as chief financial officer. Ms. Porat, whose previous position was head of Morgan Stanley’s Financial Institution Group, is a reason to believe Google is taking its financials serious. A brilliant move. Google announced “its first margin expansion in over 5 years” and showcased Ms. Porat in its earnings call last week and company value grew $60B in market capitalization the next day.

Don’t underestimate reasons to believe. Hunt them down and volley the shit out of them (tennis metaphor). Peace.

 

 

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Brand strategists are often defined by the quality of their insights. Over the years I’ve found that insights can be either supply side (what a brand does well) or demand side (what customers want most). Planners tend to work mostly in the latter space. I preach working in the middle. At the nexus. Where supply and demand come together.

For ZDNet  “For Doers, Not Browsers” was the brand strategy. It sat up there on the supply and demand fence.

For Teq, an educational development company, “Illuminating Learning” spoke to buyers and seller. At their cores.

For Sweet Loren’s Cookies “Craft Cookies Au Naturel” defined the product and consumer benefit in 4 words.

These brand strategies may sound like taglines but they aren’t; they are organizing principles. Each supported by 3 proof planks that give depth and direction to the ongoing narrative.

Brand briefs differ from creative briefs in their output. The output must hit both supply side and demand side insights. Turning communications and experiences into selling freaking machines.

Peace it up.

 

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Ya-Who?

Digital magazines? Search? Buying traffic? Mobile advertising? Alibaba? These are the things discussed yesterday on Yahoo!’s earnings call. A call that announced revenue up 14% but break even earnings.

A couple of years ago Marissa Mayer developed a strategy I thought was on the right track: Make Yahoo! a daily habit. Well it seems the habit is more like a nun’s head cover than a web business. Mobile apps are a good path but I’m not feeling any results. People with mobile phones have hourly not daily habits — and frankly those habits are wearing thin. How many Facebook and Instagram posts can a body look at during the day. Yahoo needs to find enthralling apps. Mobile apps than haven’t been done before. Content served in ways never seen before.

Yahoo is chasing TV (Fantasy Football Live) and magazines (Yahoo Food or something) which is just repackaging old stuff with some new sheen. Ms. Mayer needs to innovate. Not cross over. Not repackage. She must start with behaviors that are habit forming. She was on the right track but hasn’t landed on a breathtaking innovation. Keep after it Ms. Mayer. You are probably closer than you know. Peace.

 

 

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femmes d alger

Ninety percent of branding is plan driven: understanding what customers want most (related to your product and category) and what you do best. You find a strategic claim and three proof planks, then you build equity using that claim and proof array until its hard as steel. But…but.

Just when you think you know something about the business, someone comes along and proves you wrong. And therein lies the other 10%.

Every one once in a while an idea comes along that is off brief, off strategy, and is just too good to pass up. It may be tangential to a strategy. It may be in the neighborhood but not on the right block,. You just feel in your bones it’s a business winner. That’s the 10 percent. And you have to go for it. As Eddie Vedder says “It’s evolution baby.”  It may help morph the strategy. It may not. This is a creative business plus we are dealing with people; so you have to try things that speak to you. Strategy is mellifluous. Impressionistic.

Show a person on the street a copy of Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger, which BTW recently sold at auction for $180M, and they might think it childlike. Brand planners are in the business of creating positive product impressions. Impressions that draw consumers closer to a brand, not just closer to a sale. It’s so “not science” alone.  Cut the leash 10% of the time and allow in a little impressionism.

Peace.

 

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Blog Better.

I’ve written over 1,800 blog posts here at What’s The Idea? I would love to tell you it has made me rich, or famous, or a better writer. Perhaps I’m a marginally better writer. The reality is, I do this for all the above reasons yet the main reason I blog is because I like to. I like brand building. I like communications. Marketing. And I believe in the thesis that an “organizing principle for product, communications and experience” is a sound way to drive improved sales and profitability. I’m not going to go all “passion play” on you. The word is overused today.

Many blogs today are chores. They are shared by numerous writers. They are simply writing and posting. Searchable tags under the guise of an idea. Some social media tools are a lazy man’s blog. Poop out simple short snippets and drive traffic. A blog is best when an ongoing narrative with connective tissue.

To companies who feel the need to blog I say find a writer who loves the company, topic or category. Someone close enough to actually have a sense of humor about it, a sense of indignation, love and feelings. As much as I talk about good marketing being educatory, don’t use teachers to blog.

Blogs become good if they are interesting. Interesting, contextually relevant, alive and immediate. I miss Steve Rubel. Robert Scoble. Joseph Jaffe. Come back to blogging sirs. Kandee Johnson never left and her work moves the world for her readers.

Peace.

 

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