brand idea

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So the Federal Trade Commission can squash the proposed merger of Staples and Office Depot, whose collective asses are being kicked in by Amazon (over the last two years the two office supplies companies have been forced to close nearly 600 stores), but they say it’s okay for Anheuser Busch InBev to rename Budweiser beer “America” for the summer???

Budweiser America

I love America and I love Budweiser, but this idea crosses the branding line for me. Not that I oppose it – let’s see what happens… what the hell. I just think it’s a bit sketchy and too commercializing. It’s also too easy. Also, for those of us who stop and take their hats off whenever we hear the Star Spangled Banner, it may be off-putting and have a negative effect.

America is not a brand. And that’s the point. For the FTC or whomever to allowed this promotion to happen it’s a rookie mistake. Even for a young 240 year old.




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From the big consumer package goods marketers to the mid-size boutiques to one-man PR shops, “storytelling” is the communications art form of the day. A well-worn pop marketing tactic.

The stories to which most refer are content stories, spun by marketers to get customers to buy. Today, content is a by-the-pound business. Stories are, in fact, buildables — production buildables. Storytelling fills the revenue void of the once lofty high margin TV spot.

I’ll trade you 25 stories, 50 stories, for one powerful brand idea. In terms of value.

That’s what brand planners do.  We create big, honkin’, motivating brand ideas. And for brand planners “story listening” is way better than “storytelling.” Sure, I prime the pump by telling consumers a story. The more personal the better. I’m trying to get them to free up insights. Even strangers free up when you are real with them. I’ll show you mine… You’ve got to give to get. Brand planners are good at quant but great at hearing stories fertile with brand meaning. Consumer stories that set off alarms in planners’ heads.

All you storytellers out there – you creative, biz/dev. and agency positioning types – go on and do your storytelling thing, but remember how you get the strategy for those stories. By listening.



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I wrote a brief for a top 10 daily newspaper which, at its very core, contained an organizing principle that grew paper subscriptions and newsstand business.  The idea was intended to grow share at the expense of a much larger competitor with a grand national reputation.

The brief was presented and so well received that the paper’s marketing officer decided to use the brand strategy (with one word omitted) as the newspaper’s tagline. The omitted word was important (to me), but overall the integrity or ballast of the idea was maintained even with its absense.

It was a pyrrhic victory however, because rather than becoming the brand strategy (one claim, three support planks) it simply became a tagline. Sure the tagline governed communications and did so for many years to come, but I never had the chance to enculturate the planks into the paper’s marketing operations.  I was with an ad agency at the time – paid to deliver of ads.  The agency made lots of TV and print ads. We won awards for ourselves and for the paper. And we changed the market dynamic for a while — the real goal. But by selling a tagline not a strategy, we missed the opportunity to create a powerful brand that lived beyond paper and ink.   A sale that was not a sale, in other words.


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One thing that seems to be a norm for my consulting business is what happens when I present the brand strategy.  (A brand plan is made up of one strategy statement and three support planks.)  Almost always there is one word in the strategy that makes the client uncomfortable.  Until recently whenever I remark about this phenomenon to clients, I feel a little defensive about it – almost apologetically so. Not anymore. I’ve grown up.  The objectionable word is usually the strength of the brand plan. The ballast (which is long for another word).

This “one objectionable word” notion echos things I’ve heard creative people say to clients about advertising.  “If it makes you feel a little uncomfortable, it is good creative.  It will be noticed and remembered” they say. 

The discomfort clients’ feel is because a good brand plan is not easy. It’s work. Born of the category, target consumers and the company DNA (sorry about the markobabble, but is is a good work sometimes), a brand plan is only a beginning.

Clients that want to slide into a brand plan with great ease and a sense of constant well-being are not ready to work. To innovate. To sweat the wins and losses. Those who are ready are prepared to live the strategy, to toil and feed it. To create life around the brand.  If your brand is a name, color palette and the ad agency’s new campaign, your brand is not alive. It’s not pulsing.  You don’t have a brand, you have a product. Peace.


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There’s a neat article in the NYT about cable TV channel FX. John Landgraf, president and general manager of FX Network, is given a good deal of credit for the channel’s recent success. This guy is building a brand. He has a strategy and over time is implementing it. It is his brand strategy that guided the decision to greenlight shows like Justified and Sons of Anarchy.  It is this brand strategy that helps his people cast shows stars, name show characters and create program titles.

The brand strategy is what is providing consumers with the ability to articulate what the channel stands for. There is a vision here and it’s a vision in rarified air when it comes to TV. This is Steve Jobs stuff. Mr. Landgraf (land grab?) is not allowing focus groups plumbed from American Demographics magazine to decide his programming, he is using data smartly, but allowing his gut and (brand) vision to help consumers toward what’s next in programming.

FX has an idea. Brands need an idea.  Without, they are water lapping the shore. Peace!  

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The whole brand plan thing – one claim and three support planks – is not really that difficult a concept. Ask the executive suite “What are the three things that differentiate your company?” and you are likely to get answers like “people.”  “Service or product” is often the second thing and in today’s touchy/feely business world the third point is “culture.”  Oy.  And American business chugs on.

Even with these three undifferentiated corporate drivers, a girl can make a living. (And trust me, these are pretty lazy planks.)  What most companies have a hard time articulating is their main claim or idea. Brand strategy is made up of this claim plus the 3 planks.  That’s what drives success inside and outside a company. But the brand idea must stand alone and it must have power.  Apple’s “simplicity.” Coke’s “refreshment.” Krispy Kreme’s “sweet treat.”  Google “information in one click.”  Outside the realm of consumer marketing circles, these over-arching ideas are hard for corporate executive suites to articulate.  They use b-school worlds like excellence and operations and shareholder value.

Brands and the molders of brands are the bedrock of marketing.  The more they are understood, the more successful marketing will be…Peace.

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