May 2017

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I’ve met some really great brand planners over the years. I don’t like to name drop — but on this side of the ocean they constitute a Who’s Who. (Yes, I’m a bit of a star-fucker when it comes to brand planners.)  These exploratories were part of my self-taught doctorate in brand study. Interestingly, they are not all good teachers. They were great listeners though, so intuiting was how I learned the craft. Intuiting and doing.

I’ve also met a good number of average brand planners. Nice people all. They talked the talk.  Sometimes communicating in what I call marko-babble or brand-babble. They deliver strategy on a brief (platter?). They create sparks. And use some research. Not a lot of there there.

The difference between the A listers and the B listers, in my opinion, is that the former are more engineers than planners. Do you want someone who engineers your car or plans it? Do you want someone who engineers your kidney operation or plans it?

What’s The Idea? has always been about brand engineering. About creating a product, experience and messaging template that is replicable, sustainable, evolvable — but always drives codified brand value and sales.

I presented 15 plus objectives once to a client who ran marketing for a $4B health system. He told me that was way too many. “How can we accomplish all that? We set ourselves up for failure.”  He was a planner. Not an engineer.

Peace.

 

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Andy Rubin announced his new start up today, by way of a full page ad in the NYT paper paper. Essential is its (rather boring) name. My first experience with Mr. Rubin was online, on stage during the introduction of Google’s phone the Nexus One. Clearly a smart guy, and credited with helping develop the Android OS, Mr. Rubin had a global coming out party that day.

Today is his second coming out party and though the returns won’t be in for a few years, this one looks to be more successful.

According to the website, Essential is a hardware and software company, with 7o+ employees. Quite a few for a startup. So there’s money there. Big money.

The mission of Essential is grand. Make technology easier. Completely open. More pervasive (into the home) and, one might intuit, more affordable down the road. On the site one can pre-order a phone. See the specs. Read about a new 360 camera. Bathe in promises of integration of home and intuitive systems. And feast on the company’s “festo a mano.”

It’s not my favorite launch approach. I like to have real stuff. Build your brand around stuff. Not talk. I’m sure genius will come from this company.  I wish them well — we all do. But coming out of the gate with “an ad and a promise” is not the best start.

Peace.

 

 

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I don’t like picking on Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s advertising.  It’s not like they have better things to do than treat cancer.  But strategy it’s my job.

I was reading online and a big pop up ad from Memorial overtook the screens. “The future of cancer care” was the type on the screen. It dissolved to a second screen which read “Now available on Long Island,” closing with logo and tagline “More Science. Less fear.” More science, by the way, is a genius brand strategy.  But here’s the rub. And it’s a rub for the MSKCC brand managers and agency Pereira O’Dell.  Prove it.  Don’t waste your breath, pixels and budget on a claim.  If you are trying to give patients and families hope, give them proof. Where the science at? Where the more science at?

We are smart consumers. We can take it. Start talking science.

This digital ad is from the “We’re here” school. This is our name, we are on Long Island, buy from us.

Shallow. More homework. Less fear.

Peace.

 

 

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Foster Bias & Sales is an imaginary ad agency name I came up with that offers a trifecta of marketing success. These steps to a sale apply to marketing, advertising, even memo writing.

It starts by fostering a positive and receptive environment in which to communicate with customers. Product context, entertainment and/or education are all tools used to foster interest. Gather attention and predispose consumers to listen….that’s Mr. Foster.

Create bias toward your product or against a key competitor is step two. This is where marketers become competitors. Care-abouts and good-ats are what the brand planner mines and the communicator deals in here. Creating bias is not nuanced. It’s hardball.   

Sales obviously refers to action. Real purchase, decision to purchase, or predisposition to purchase. In the sales trade this is called “asking for the order.” Even if implicit. Being too pushy is not attractive, however.  You have to know how and when to ask. If you cross the line you may damage to your ability to foster a proper selling environment. Know when to walk away. Customers appreciate commitment sans the pushy hand. They may come back.        

Peace. 

 

 

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Two titans of retail are facing off and it’s going to be wild.  Walmart and Amazon. Amazon and Walmart. There will be only winners: the businesses and the custies.  Amazon continues to kill it in online retail. So much so, in fact, that they’re looking into some brick and mortar places to make product access near-instantaneous.  Walmart is beginning to get that 800 lb. monkey off its back (low price, low-esteem, box store with bad vegetables), by ramping up its online offering. It quintupled online SKUs in one year thanks to purchases like Jet.com and others.

The real war zone, when it comes to customer marketing, will be brand-side.  Amazon has an amazing brand that is maturing. An overdog I like to call it. Walmart in a heart brand that many people view as high-traffic but low-value. Don’t get me wrong, the retail product has value, but the brand is a little lacking in the amygdala, as brand expert Megan Kent might say.

Both brands have the money and leadership to innovate. Both have the dough to execute. Now it will be up to the brand leaders to create some excitement. Walmart faces more of an uphill challenge. One any brand strategist would love to tackle. But we all know what happened to the overdogs.

Peace.    

 

 

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Someone on Quora asked a question about the worst taglines used in branding. Got me thinking. Brand planners may feel differently about taglines but for me they’re a powerful branding vehicle.  To the tagline falls the work of explaining and defining what the brand is when the name falls flat.   When a name doesn’t pass the Is-Does test (what a brand Is and what a brand Does), the tagline needs to. Coca-Cola was a great brand name. The fact that is was printed on a beverage can helped with the Is. Snapchat is a great brand name. The fact that it’s plastered on a web or mobile page helps with the Is.

But not all product or service names are that lucky. When a name shares no meaning, a good tagline can clear things up. For startups and new products, it’s crucial they pass the Is-Does test. In these cases taglines are even more important.

For established brand, where the Is is well known, the tagline can tighten the bond of consumer attachment — focusing of care-abouts and good-ats.

My biggest peeve is when a tagline is used as an advertising cherry.  That is, as a summation of the ad campaign. When it’s all about the ad idea not the brand idea, it is the limpest form of tagline.

Get your brand strategy right and picking the strongest tagline will be easy.

Peace.

 

 

 

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I write a good deal about pent-up demand. It is a marketer’s best friend.  When Miller Lite was launched no one had ever successfully marketed a low calorie beer. Ergo there was no demand. The market had to be educated as to the value of light beer.  Once done, demand was there.  No pent-up demand.

Marketing and brand planners should always look for pent-up demand in the market. When it’s obvious, E.g., cheaper taxi rides (Uber), better tasting hamburger (Shake Shack), life is easy. When a product value is not obvious, finding pend-up demand is a chore.  For Excel Commercial Maintenance, a building cleaning service whose customers care most about low price, a brand strategy “The navy seals of commercial maintenance” met pent-up demand for fast, fastidious and proactive workers. Something purchasers rarely talked about.

Not every product or service offers a marketing with a deep undying demand for a feature or function. But if you don’t dig deep you are not doing your planning job.

Peace.

 

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In the early months, Stitch Fix did not have enough money to do advertising. This was a good thing. Start-ups today often have A or B round money to spend on demand generation ad programs.  I like the idea of running a start-up without advertising – for a while at least. It puts employees and consumers in charge of marketing. Not agents. Creative directors, media buyers and English majors shouldn’t be responsible for new product success.

When there is no start-up ad budget, there are no false prophets. Just product and consumers.

Advertising is an accelerant to be introduced when the product is right. When the product meets pent-up demand.  Ads, done well, are also expensive. Ads done poorly can also be expensive, by making the company look gooberish. Unprofessional.

Just as France has a moratorium on media 24 hours before an election, start-ups should have a moratorium on advertising for the first 6 months.

Peace.

 

 

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Group Solve.

Marketing is problem solving. Through productizing and service-izing. And since marketing is inextricably linked to branding, problem solving is inherently a good brand strategy trait.

The digital economy has brought us many things to be excited about as marketers: the web, big data, small batch/craft economy offerings, and the Uberization of services aka the sharing economy. But when it comes to problem solving, few of these things are as exciting to me as the “group-solve” phenomenon.  Think open source R&D.

Recently, the Opioid Epidemic Challenge Summit hack-a-thon sponsored by Mass General Hospital and the GE Foundation came up with a Narcan lock box idea that may stem death by opioids. A number of years ago, I worked on an idea called Future Boston (there’s that city again), whereby virtual teams were to come together to solve Boston city problems like traffic, education and population health. This teaming event was sponsored by MIT, IEEE, and the Boston Globe. (Disclosure: it never made it out of plan.)

By bringing great and willing minds together in these hack-a-thon problem solving initiatives, we are doing what humans, with our large brain cases, do best.

When marketers crowd source problems, sans economic motive, amazing things can happen. This is not just a non-profit space, it’s for all members of the commercial community.

Peace.                      

 

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When Milos Forman was auditioning Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito for One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, he had them sit in a faux group therapy circle and vamp lines. When something seemed off he repeatedly instructed “That is not natural.” 

At one point in my career, having never, ever had a real sales job, a la David Ogilvy selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, I decided to make amends.  I had done lots of ride-arounds with salesman, interviewed them ad nauseam, but never felt what it was like to look consumers in the eye and be paid based on my ability to make them buy.  

I did have a little head start in sales having sat through hundreds of hours of consumer focus groups and having read hours and hours of attitude and awareness studies, but looking Mary Q. Public and getting her to unsnap her purse, not so much.

Sales is hard. I learned that whenever I was “selling” and it didn’t sound natural, I wasn’t really selling. I was wasting breath. When I sounded like a commercial or a brochure, I was wasting time. This lesson has served me well as a brand planner. When I use words in strategy that sound like selling, that are off-pitch (music pitch), I have more work to do. If brand strategy isn’t natural, it isn’t effective.

Peace.

 

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