Brand Strategy

    Wren Brand Idea.


    Sometimes I enjoy watching ads and trying to back out the brand strategy. While watching the viral video from clothing retailer Wren, entitled “First Kiss,” the desire to figure out the strategy never popped up. The idea was too wonderful, too perplexing; getting total strangers to kiss on video camera for the first time.  Shot in black and white pretty much from the waste up, the video showed the discomfort and comfort of this most intimate act.

    first kiss

    Watching the video you spend most of your time looking for visual cues as to the couple’s affinity, e.g., their looks, nerves, sexual attraction, etc. Then you start to asking yourself about the act of kissing itself? Is it an act of love? A greeting? Something strangers should share?  Is it alive? Meaning, can it begin one way and end another? You debate the culture of kissing. Fascinating.

    And after all of these thoughts, only then do you really notice the clothes…and the style. And stylish many of these people are. (The stylist for the shoot was wonderful.)

    Maybe the next day you think about the brand strategy — when you’re back to work.

    My take on the the selling idea? It shows how one can make the uncomfortable comfortable. Through intimacy. Through trust. The idea felt like a game of dare…a game of spin the bottle. Wear clothes you like but also clothes that make you feel a little uncomfortable. And to me that’s the brand idea.  Wren…if it feels good.





    Chase What Brand Strategy.?.


    Question: What is a brand strategy? 

    Answer: A brand strategy comprises a strategic idea or claim and three support planks that vivify the claim.  Three planks, because two don’t always allow for a complete, differentiated story. Getting the idea right is key. Selling it to consumers day after day is the heavy lifting…called brand management.

    Chase What Matters.

    JPMorgan Chase has a very identifiable idea: “Chase what matters.”  It’s a consumer directive from a very big company that knows how to make, save and invest money. Something they already get credit for.  The idea has ballast, but so far it is only an idea. Banks have been making promises without backing them up for decades. I’m not getting a read on the Chase support planks yet – the planks that allow me to believe Chase “knows what matters” to me and that they are the bank best equipped to deliver.   

    One of Chase’s neater tactical ideas lately is the “Chase Loan For Hire” program, through which it decreases small business loans by a quarter point for every new employee hired, up to three. Though I have no idea what Chase’s planks are, forensically, I might assume this tactic supports a plank titled “Meaningful borrowing matters.”  I’m not talking buy a hot tub meaningful, I’m talking something that relates to what popular culture views as meaningful. Today that’s jobs.  Nice touch.

    Banking is a tough category. In my bones I feel Chase has an idea, but the jury is still out on the organization of the proof.  I’ll continue to map its planks as they become evident and share them here at What’s The Idea? Peace!

    Nike Water Down.


    I don’t see action sports being a good fit for Nike, even though its a nice revenue stream today. According to a New York Times article today, the segment is underserved and Nike wants a piece.  When Nike bought Hurley, I thought it a great idea, but one to roll as a separate brand. Using Nike to go head-to-head with O’Neill, Billabong and Quicksilver, not so much.

    They are spending big — hiring 72 and Sunny, big name athletes on the action sports circuit, hot videographers and commercial directors, but it all feels a little “all hat no cattle.”  The tactics are right, but the business idea wrong.  I may have said the same back when Nike moved into golf, but then they tied their swoosh to Tiger and it worked.  Now they want to extend to skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. Sure, it will spike, but long-term it will diminish the brand. Nike should have put wood behind Hurley.  Water culture people (frozen or warm) are fickle. They create style, they don’t get it out of a box or pad/pod.

    Google’s culture of technological obesity (gobbling in every direction) is not dissimilar to this overstep by Nike. Chill with the kicks, the golf, and the apparel. Enjoy global growth. And back away from the table. Water sports will water down the brand. Peace.

    The Web’s Specialty.


    There’s a cool story in today’s New York Times about single-food restaurants. It stands to reason that enterprises of this type can only thrive if the food is excellent and the stores located in highly populated areas.  In NYC you can take out and, in some cases, eat in at a Mac and Cheese store or a meatball store. There are places that sell only mussels, only rice pudding, and only fried chicken. It’s a growing phenomenon. Specialization suggests focus; a focus on quality, ingredients, product and knowledge.

    In mid-town Manhattan, where there are probably a half million lunches served within walking distance of any high-rise, there are lots of options. So why not go to the best option; the place that specializes? The place that eats, breathe and sleeps its specialty. Forget me not that this type of store can scale well and have a supply chain with amazingly fat margin opportunities. That’s gravy at the gravy store.

    This is a key chapter in the story of the Web — and where the web is going.

    I’ve written before about “worldwide pricing” and the ability to search the world for the best prices.  Well, how about searching the world for the best quality? The ability to do so is a web app. And specialization and focus are the tools of that trade.

    We are bound by product and service mediocrity because of geographic and time limitations. And because of supply and demand.  Well, say buh-bye to these barriers.  Ima stop there and let you entrepreneurs ponder that for a while. Ponder, Ponder.  Peace!

    Pregnant Context



    pregnant-red-apeWhenever I try to explain to business people what a brand strategy is, I find it often better to just show them a few strategies. When I go on about “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” eyes glaze over and I fall into the marko-babble trap. But when I display the brand idea and 3 proof planks, the synapses start to fire and they begin thinking about their own business.  Practice and a modeling (as they say in .edu) are brain sparking. Theory not so much.  

    Then I typically walk prospects through the hard part of brand strategy: what we need to throw out. As in, what we needn’t say. The iPhone was positioned as a phone, not a camera-email-text-app device. The “i” carried all of that. The “i” was pregnant with all innovative things Apple.  

    Pregnant context is what you get credit for even when you don’t say it.  Select your brand strategy words with precision and you’ll get way more than you ask for. In the recent tyro brand planner event at BBH, celebrating the life of Griffin Farley, the winning idea for the Citibike assignment was “Bikes with Benefits.”  The idea was pregnant with target information, aspiration, vitality and value.  The best brand strategies live a long, long time. First they borrow context then they create their own.  Peace in The House (of Representatives). 


    Brand Promises and Stereotypes.


    Stereotypes are important in marketing because they are patterns.  Many feel that if you play to the patterns, you will win.  Creative directors, on the other hand, have made a living going the other way — staying away from patterns, which is a pattern in itself.

    Stereotyping Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, might suggest she was more likely to assist in the EU bailout because she’s a woman – a mom.  Stereotyping a Long Island Rail Road worker who took retirement with disability at age 50, might portray him as a golf-playing aerobicist, while the reality is he is an arthritic thanks to 30 years keeping the trains moving during winter snowstorms.

    Is someone in Aspen, CO who opens a retailer door and shouts in “Which way to Little Nells?” a New Yorker?   Okay, that one might be accurate – but the reality is stereotypes are nothing more than learning for a brand planner. And as planners if we know “no one wants to be a stereotype.”  It doesn’t mean the consumer wants to be the pioneer who takes the arrows  or the Beta User whose machine gets crapped – it just means when being sold, we want to feel individualized.  The promise has to have promise…not an explicit benefit.  Let consumers’ minds work and process things in their own way. Europeans are better at this type of selling than Americans.  In the U.S. we are very explicit with our ads and social media.

    Sometimes being broad with a promise works harder.  Peace.  

    Brand Strategy Trumps Formula.


    When is faster not faster?  And when does modular, formulaic construction create an inferior product?   The answer is in marketing communications. Here’s how this shizz should work.  After all the money discussions are complete, after the bosses shake hands, and proprietary company information is exchanged, someone with strategic  bone at an agency should write a brief.   Brand brief, creative brief, project brief, call it what you will. If there is not a strategic idea within the brief that feels right (and I do mean feel), that inspires pictures and music in the heads of the creators and developers, then the brief is poor and should be rewritten.

    Time to market.

    Once a brief is right and approved (and be prepared for some fighting, fear and diplomacy), only then should creative work begin. A tight brief is the fastest way to good work. For those who like metrics, a tight brief gets to approved work faster.  Approved work gets produced faster. Produced work gets seen faster. And organized, singular work – be it banner, website, promotion, direct, promotion or advertising – gets acted upon by consumers faster.

    Where the system breaks down is when the strategic idea is unclear. As creators of marketing deliverables become more process focused and less idea focused, as they become more formula driven, the work suffers. Formula replaces the cerebral cortex when creators are uninspired.  I wrote a brief for a friend’s commercial maintenance company that took some real digging.  The brief likened his operation to that of a team of Navy Seals.  That’s who they were.  That’s who they will be. The company is  “fast, preemptive and fastidious.” That’s a plan creators can get behind – without formula or module. That’s brand design. Peace.



    Many think of marketing as acquisition. Or lead generation. Business leaders in that mode don’t really understand brand planning. What often drives leaders who think this way towards branding or rebranding are: old logos, mergers and acquisitions, and boredom. Brand planning though, is all about strategy.

    At What’s The Idea? a brand plan is defined as one strategic idea (or claim) and the three support planks – planks that prove the claim and organize how business is done. A mark or logo is best if it supports that idea. Salespeople and operations people are optimized if they are guided by an organizing principle.  Those businesses who don’t get branding can’t ask employees to go out and “blue” for the company based on the color palette or “leader” for the company, based on a mission statement.  

    A brand plan makes it so that when every employee leaves the building at night they can ask themselves a strategic question about their performance. And that is the litmus test.

    I like to say “campaigns come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.”  Leads come and go. Customers come and go.  Brands strategy should not. If it’s not about building and maintaining business through strategy, it’s not a brand plan.

    Employees come and go too, their understanding of the strategy should not. Executives talk all the time about company culture. At the best companies strategy is enculturated.  Peace.

    Viva la diff


    One of my mantras is “provide every company employee with an understanding of the brand strategy.” A brand strategy being the organizing principle that drives value. Bank account value. Which is fed by perceived consumer value. When employees know the brand strategy, the good ones pursue it, use it and think about it — even on weekends.

    At Zude, a start-up I was a part of in the web space, the brand strategy was “the fastest, easier way to build and manage a website.”  The CFO of Zude Jeff Finkle used to say that every employee walking to their car at night should ask his or herself “What did I do today to make Zude a faster, easier way to build and manage a website?”

    When Larry Page took over from Eric Schmidt as CEO of Google, he declared this as a company mission: “To get Google to be a big company that has the nimbleness and soul and passion and seed of a start-up.”  Not a brand strategy.  It’s an operating or operations strategy. Certainly it’s laudable and good business. Certainly employees can ask themselves as they leave the building if they passed the litmus. But it’s inward focused and brand strat needs to be outward focused.  Beware the difference. Peace.

    When Brand Equity Doesn’t Travel.


    Bob Gilbreath’s book Marketing With Meaning is an important read for all marketing strategists and executives. Without “meaning” in marketing deliverables we are simply singing. Not that good songs don’t sometimes work, they do; but a meaningful selling premise motivates.

    Meaning is an imperative for brand planners, when creating an organizing principle for a brand. Finding a pent up demand consumers desire – one that your product can fulfill —  is hard enough.  Landing on a desire that extends across buying targets is some seriously heavy lifting.  This is a problem for most brand marketers.  

    As one’s planning audience grows in size and complexity, the focus of the desire has to lessen. And the meaning delivered even more so. 

    This is why many brand extensions fail. A company that has meaning with one target and adds a new one, often finds out the brand equity doesn’t travel.  I once blamed Google for its “culture of technological obesity.”  It was eating everything in its way, independent of its palette.  Marketers need to know what businesses not to get in to.  He happy with your meaning.  Unfortunately, it’s that money thing, that stockholder thing that turns us crazy. So we expand, lose focus and add fish to the burger menu. 

    Let’s be happy with success marketers. Don’t hedge your bets by adding more targets; get better at what you do. Protect your meaning. Peace!