Art in marketing.

    Contextual vs. New.

    Brand Planning

    Steps to a brand plan.


    Here’s how I do it.

    1. Observe. As a consultant, observation happens before an engagement and during. Before, observations are used in biz/dev. What’s going on in the culture? What’s going on in the selling culture? The buying culture? These nuggets are the grist for the emails that start a dialogue. Emails explaining what I do for living are “me” focused not “you” focused.

    Once engaged, observations are the ebb and flow off the business tide – contextually set up by business fundamentals provided by senior client management. Research, both qual. and quant. come in at this stage, budget permitting.

    2. Commune. Unlike anthropological fieldwork, in brand planning we need to commune with those we study. Plumbing, probing, storydoing (thanks Ty), making of friends. This is how we add dimension and luster to our hunting and gathering – talking to people. There are no wrong people.

    3. Cull. A cull rack in Great South Bay parlance is the rack that catches the clams of legal edible size. With all observations in (one can observe forever), the cull begins. What to save. Knowing what is important is personal, subjective, objective, scientific and artful. Basically it’s a brain thing. Can’t really be explained. No algo for this.

    4. Organize. In my work I often talk about brand planning as an organizing principle. Today I’m thinking about the root word organ. Yes, organ. The business winning elements of the strategy are like organs. They give life to the brand plan. I use 3 brand planks and there are three really important organs. (My brand plan contains one claim, three support planks.) With this structure, the puzzle pieces come together.

    5. Package. Brand strategy doesn’t package well. It’s like an early Pearl Jam song, when they weren’t good at endings. The big reveal of a strategy (remember it’s not creative) often feels soft. It feels right, everyone is nodding, but it’s often a soft landing. If I may be crass, it’s kind of blue ballsy. Unlike creative which is more artful and has a hook, brand strategy is only a beginning. It needs great packaging to make it feel more creative. A touch of poetry helps.

    This is how I do it. This is how brand strategy at What’s the Idea? is made. Have you a different approach? Peace!

    Context and Brand Planning.


    I was reading today about Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed media piece of art, entitled “Canyon”, and its donation to the MoMA.  One of the arguments by MoMA to the donor family for putting it there vs. The Met was that ther Rauschenberg “combines” were on display there along with combines by other important artists of the period. The logic being MoMA would provide a more contextual setting.

    Context is a keyword for brand planners. We use it when budgets are low. We use it when it’s pregnant with emotional meaning. We mold it sometime, just for the poetry.  As a fairly newly minted brand planner, I look at the craft in context. When I think about the pursuit, I muse over its history, its future, the tools and best practitioners.  I’ve been a brand planner at agencies and as a director of marketing. In both situations the job is to create stimulants for selling. Sustained selling. That takes organization, tough decisions and a tight plan. It also takes oversight. At agencies the stim. is the brief,and oversight of the creative product.  (The latter often doesn’t go well.)  Client side, the stim. is the brief, the selling in and oversight of executive management, direct reports and agents (nicer word than vendors). Can you say herding cats in a marble hallway?    

    My hope as a brand planner is to alter the context of the discipline in marketing.  Just as Margaret Mead insisted that all of her direct reports at the American Museum of Natural Art had psychotherapy – she argued knowing more about yourself has to be healthy – I believe marketing is healthiest when driven by a brand plan. And evolving the marketing craft in that direction, where brand plans are not an afterthought or side-thought, but the fundamental building block is my mission.  In the historic context that is brand planning, my aim is to make it the major organ in the marketing body. Peace!

    PS.  If you don’t comment, I can’t learn.

    Poetry and Brand Planning.


    Most marketing strategists, especially those of the digital variety, are all about the science. Success and failure are things that can be quantified and measured.  Well ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I’m here to tell you that science is the price of admission. Como se duh? The dashboard is important – especially that “sales” metric – but every marketing organization is better off if they have a handle on the softer side of selling. The tone and poetry of a brand.

    I was sharing coffee with a behavioral planner at BBDO a while ago, I believed he worked on Gillette, and he said something that really stayed with me.  It spoke to me planning brain (he was Irish). He said most planners don’t have a sense of poetry. And I agree. Wholeheartedly. They may appreciate poetry, they may even seek it out in their insights, but when it becomes paper time, time to make the brief, the words become rational and the emotions are simply reported. The brief must provide the poetry.  

    When science is the price of admission and poetry is the voice of brand reason, great things can happen. Because poetry is what moves creative people to greatness, not logic. Poetry is the fertile ground that makes writers and art directors (and yes, even coders) feel and spark and sing. And, oh yes, laugh out loud.

    So whoever you are, if you are looking at a brief (even your ouwn) ask yourself “Where is the poetry here?” The poetry that warms the brand. Peace!

    Strategy and Stuff.


    The two tools I use in brand planning are the brand strategy and the marketing communications plan. An old colleague used to refer to the education business as made up of “things and stuff.”  His logic was that things are the tangibles – something that goes thump when you drop it. The “stuff” refer to the stuff you teach. Nice idea, but poor word selection me thinks. Most people think of stuff as tangible and touchable. My brand planning tools are about the “strategy” and the “tools” (stuff).  The tools are the ads, the web, PR, promotions, etc.

    Brand strategy in my hose comprises 1 claim and 3 proof planks. You can write a mission statement, messaging ephemera, tone personality and lot of other shizzle, but they tend to murky up the brand waters more often than not.  One claims and 3 supports is all you and anyone need to operationalize and organize your brand’s world.  Interbrand, Landor and all the other branding shops will agree (behind closed doors.) Once that heavy lifting is done all the stuff you make is either on or off strategy. 

    So ask yourself, does you brand have a claim? And have you organized that claim’s supports into three discrete, powerful, endemic, customer care-abouts?  Few have.  It can be your edge.  Peace!

    Go out and enjoy a parade this weekend!

    Art in marketing.


    The minute I saw my first piece of Banksy’s graffiti art I knew it was art. Art is very personal.  I have used many Banksy pieces as Twitter backgrounds. (Much obliged, sir. Sir?)

    Many talk about the art of marketing, brand planning and advertising. But today l prefer to talk about the in.  Art has a very meaningful place in marketing.  Like the beautiful, style-happy person you pass on the street and can’t keep your eyes off, an artful photo, turn of phrase, or video edit captures the viewer’s imagination. And once the imagination is captured and the senses are a tingle – the door to the heat and mind are open.

    What the marketer does with that open door is the critical next step.  Sell too hard and the consumer loses the warmies. Sell without context and the viewer is confused. Opt not to sell at all and you become the disaffected artist in the SOHO gallery who cares not.

    citibank climber

    What the marketer does with that open door depends on the art itself and  the brand plan. It’s complicated.  When Citibank, in its lovely “cliff climber” TV spot, shares that amazing climbing sequence and the poetic card purchases that enabled the climb — “And what girl wouldn’t want new shoes?,” there is mad connection.  The art is visual. It’s athletic. Unseen. That’s art in marketing. Not of marketing. Peace!

    (The Citibank spot is by Publicis, I believe.)

    The Loyalty Store.


    One of the 24 Questions I use in my deep dive brand planning rigor is “How much company revenue comes from existing or repeat customers?” When I compare this figure with lost customer and new customer revenue I get a sense of a company’s loyalty, loss and business development focus.

    If you look at marketing job boards today you will notice a great deal of acquisition activity.  The majority of marketers are absolutely smitten by new customers; it’s akin to generals in battle who need to take new territory. Loyalty marketers, on the other hand, know it is the back door, the door customers leave by, that is most critical. 


    Loyalty is engendered when customers are not overlooked. Everyone knows a broken family where mommy or daddy found s new partner because back at home they felt underappreciated. This behavior not only breaks up families, it drives wedges between parents and children. Loyalty, love, under-appreciation and inquisitiveness are human traits. Marketers try to build love through the AIDA principle: Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action, often forgetting Loyalty until it’s too late. Until the back door has been open too long.

    Coupons (sorry honey flowers), shallow thank yous, and automated responses do not loyalty make. Understanding yourself and your customers through a well-principled brand plan, is the place to start. Otherwise, it’s off to the loyalty store for some quick fix tactics.  Peace.


    Yahoo’s Going to Get its Exclamation Back!


    I would not be surprised to see Yahoo sold to Jerry Yang and the Texas Pacific Group (TPG) fairly quickly. Yahoo, with lots of schmutz on its shoes, is still one of the top 5 tech brands in the world. And what is a brand but a vessel into which we poor meaning. Organized meaning. Yahoo’s fix requires an Is-Does. What a brand Is and what a brand Does.

    Is it a portal?
    Is it search engine?
    Is it an advertising company?
    Is it a web content publisher?
    Is it a technology company?

    Does it provide news?
    Does it provide entertainment?
    Does it provide organization?
    Does it provide results?

    Yahoo needs to retrench and make tough decisions — and that will only happen if the property is sold. A public company with lots of shareholders, Yahoo will get its Yahoo! back with new leadership, some old leadership, tough love, and a brand plan. And when I say brand plan I don’t mean a new logo, new color palette and an replacement agency for Goodby, Silverstein and Partners.  I mean an organizing principle for marketing.  A plan that inform every decision made by the company — from hiring to firing to what new mobile services to launch.

    When dimensionalized through obs and strats, a brand plan creates marketing clarity. TPG doesn’t speak like this, but they know how to make it happen. It’s about time. Peace. 

    Proof under development.


    When developing brand strategy I look for the claim then search for 3 business-building planks that support that claim. Proof planks, in other words. Proof can be tangible or it can be developmental and additive.  What do I mean by developmental and additive? Let’s just say it’s a goal and we may not be there yet — it’s under development. From a messaging point of view we may not have the scientific proof yet, but we know how to talk about it. Sympathize with it. And celebrate it.

    Were I selling for Taco Bell and had a proof plank about using ingredients imported from South and Latin America, I might talk about the qualities of those ingredients that make for a uniquely South American taste (soil, sun, mountains).  In the meantime, while that proof is under development, the company had better be looking for real sources. Proof under development is a little like working at a start-up, it’s about what you know, not what you make – about what your mission is, not what you can deliver right now.

    This may sounds disingenuous, but it’s not. I would never suggest lying or misleading. In the Taco Bell example it would have to be known that, say, the peppers were from the arid southwestern US – but the story has a beginning, a direction and a motivation.  Peace.

    How to measure brand effectiveness.


    I am not in the brand awareness business. I am in the brand association business. And to take it one step further I am really in the brand benefit business.

    Brand awareness is simply recall of a name, logo and/or package. Marketing begins with awareness. It’s the price of admission.

    Brand association takes awareness a step further in that consumers are asked to play back certain context and associations with that recall. It might be category association, e.g., Coke is a cola, Cowboys are a football team, or perhaps the association may extend beyond what a brand “is” to a quality, Apple offers product innovation, for instance.

    But the third level, the one I refer to as Brand Benefits walks consumers beyond rote awareness and context features to benefits they need, desire or cherish. I’m not talking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’m talking endemic product or service needs. But importantly, these brand benefits must be few (three to be precise) and constant. They are brand planks. 

    To measure the success of a brand, you must track awareness of brand benefits. If consumers can play back your planks in unaided recall testing you are winning the branding war.




    Margaret Mead and Marketing.


    I was lost at college until I found anthropology:  The study of man.  In college I loved reading how sexually repressed we were and how other cultures found sex with someone other than your spouse healthy.  Primitive?  I think not.  Have I ever cheated on the wifus?  I think not. Freakin’ culture!

    Who knew anthropology would end up shaping my career 30 years later?  I certainly didn’t.  My senior year I went to Washington D.C. on Rollins College’s dime to the annual convention of the American Anthropological Association where I had the absolute privilege of seeing Margaret Mead.   I could tell she was one of those special earthlings, but didn’t then conceive she would impact my career, unless I worked in a museum or became a teacher.

    After years in account management, I became a brand planner. Planners care about culture. Not brand culture, people culture.  Good planners must assess the product. They need to understand how it’s made, of what it’s made, where and why.  Then they must map that learning into patterns — trying to find the love.  Where culture comes in is delving into how consumers and non-consumers intersect with the product. Deeply understanding the how, when and why. Becoming intimate with the feelings, needs, and the fulfillments. Weighing these intersections, culling, then prioritizing them.  

    What comes out at the back end is a brand plan.  A brand plan has two things: A brand idea or claim.  (The claim doesn’t have to be unique, it just has to be true.) And 3 support planks or proof planks.  The organizing principle for proving the claim. When combined, these three planks must be unique.

    The brand plan is the way forward. It guides future product development, creates the map for marketing, and allows employees to understand product culture. I’m not sure Margaret Mead would approve of me name dropping in a marketing blog but I bet I could get her to buy something. Peace! (On that she would agree.)