Monthly Archives: February 2019

Plant Based “Meats” Need a New Name.


There is a big branding opportunity for someone — renaming plant based meats. It has to happen, it’s just a matter of time. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat had an opportunity, but blew it.  The Impossible Burger is a good product name, but a company?  Not so much. No Evil Foods also took a stab, but missed. The big opportunity is to Xerox or Q-Tip the category. To create a word that encompasses plant-based meats and creates a meat aesthetic without using the word meat, which is and ever shall be animal-based.  

I understand why comparing oneself to meat is a strategy, but it’s a near term strategy. This category needs a taxon. Readers of Whats’s The Idea? know I often use an Is-Does litmus for good naming. What a brand Is and what a brand Does. First movers to identify a new category claim the throne.

The growth of the plant-based meat-like market is close to hockey sticking…but still in search of a category-defining brand name. Let’s get to work.







The word “and” has killed more brand strategies than an online community college marketing course. Here’s a company mission that foretells brand strategy problems:

Our priority is school safety and accountability; our goal is to be the standard for integrated school safety and operations systems.

First sentence: How can something be your priority when you’ve added something else?  That’s two priorities. Second sentence: They added the word “integrated” to the mix, whatever that means. And for good measure, bringing up the rear is the tag along “operations systems.”  I’ve been to this movie before and it’s not pretty. Not from a branding standpoint.

I know this company. They do good work in the school security space. Their most in-demand product is smart cards. Cards with chips in them that have multiple applications but student safety is the key care-about.

If you parse the Is-Does from the statement, they are a security company that offers accountability. Accountability for what? Safety? And they integrate, but with what? And of course, operations systems are important, but what are they?  Is this a hardware, software or services company?

The positioning reality is — this is an educational smart card company. The other stuff are bells, whistles and features. Oy.

And. It will get you every time.






Startups, Brands and IPOs


After successful IPOs, companies add dough to the coffers, members to their boards, and oversight from investors. Near term, they are often given time to catch their collective breath. Funding a round is hard work. And depending on the size of the company and the raise, everyone needs a big exhale.  But within a year or so the pressures to grow start to mount. Where will growth come from? How will we accelerate? And don’t forget to watch the runaway – the burn.

Typically post-raise, lots of new server boxes show up. Popcorn machines. Software. Desks and Beats headsets. But when the accountants start asking about returns, the business hats come out.

Spotify, it was reported today, is looking to be more than a streaming music service. They are making two podcast purchases. And they won’t stop there. More forms of content are on the horizon for Spotify. Don’t ask me what. Pressure’s on. It’s what happens to highly funded startups.

Startups need a brand strategy to help them understand their value – to themselves and customers. It also helps with focus. When Netflix went from DVDs in the mail to streaming movies, 5 years after their IPO, they stayed “on value,” on brand claim. Nice evolution.

Startups without an understanding of brand claim and proof, looking to grow in non-endemic ways, are apt to wander the desert.

Study the care-abouts and good-ats, baby. 



Road To Somewhere.


There’s a design company in Asheville, NC – Sound Mind Creative – using this description to explain its craft:

Basically, we are experts at building and maintaining vibrant design systems, meaning we understand the power of visual consistency and the details of that are fonts, colors, photography, words and so much more. We create multi-page Graphic Design Standards documents that allow the look of a business brand identity/look to be replicated across print and web media, simply everything your company makes graphically matches (ex. your brochure matches your web site) and our standards manuals are rules.

Nicely put. The para perfectly explains what a design system is. Design is the “good stuff” in branding. Good design trumps bad ideas, daily, in our business. Good design can make a person stop dead in their tracks. It’s a craft like catching a football…many can do it, few do it exceptionally.

What often gets lost in all these design system discussions is the strategy — the words on paper. The motivation for the work. The binary “on/off” litmus that must be applied for proper brand building.  A design system without a brand strategy is a road to nowhere.

More attention needs to be paid to the “words.” (Mark Pollard, a smart branding dude, is someone leading the way in this words-as-strategy discussion.)



Binary Brand Strategy.


If you want to see a nice presentation on contemporary guardrails for strategy and brand planning (they are two different things, says the presentation), please click up Faris and Rosie Yakob’s video from this year’s 4A’s Stratfest, entitled the Gemini Agenda. There’s a lot to like here.

One key point they make is binary is bad. Their argument? There is soulfulness and smarts in the grays laying between bland and white. Hard to disagree.

But…the premise of What’s The Idea?, the premise of brand strategy as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging, runs contrary.  That is, product modifications or developments, product experiences and the messaging supporting all are either on strategy or off. On or off is a binary orthodoxy.  Can a binary approach to brand strategy kill work? Yes. Must it? Not necessarily. Humans have antibodies for a reason. Brands can live and learn from off-piste activities. But they certainly shouldn’t be habit-forming.

For my money and my clients’ money, brand strategy is binary. On or off.  It’s freeing. It inspires value-building creativity. And it is the fastest way to build brands. Brand strategy is a formulary…much as Coke is a formulary.