Incrementalism or Absolutism?


    There’s a lot of absolutism going on in politics today. Absolutism is very binary: on or off. Marketing has grown to be more absolute: sale or no sale.  But branding is best looked at as an incremental practice. That doesn’t mean you can’t sell a product to a person upon first impression, not at all.  But the process of building or engineering preference takes time. And if you are able manage all the steps to a sale “awareness, interest, desire and purchase” in a single web or retail session, you need to keep the foot on the pedal to strengthen that relationship.  Because someone who can go from unaware-to-brand love in minutes, is apt to do so again – at your expense.

    So look at branding as a long term effort. Measure sales along side positive attitude changes, once or twice a year, and do it for a minimum of 10 years. It takes a while to seed and germinate your claim and proof array. 

    That said, patience is not a virtue many marketers possess. That’s the reality. Yet it is a virtue brand manager must. Engineer your preference and it will last and last.



    Brand Minimalism.


    I’m a cook who believes in technique.  The more I cook, the more I understand that it’s not recipes that make the best food, it’s good ingredients well presented. If I look at a recipe and see 12 plus ingredients, I click on.  It’s a rarity when so many ingredients come together into something that has a distinctive taste.  Kind of like mixing too many paints as a kid.

    In brand strategy, technique varies from planner to planner. Lot’s of behavioral observation. Quantitative numbers crunching. Segmentation.  Interviews with stakeholders and customers. Interviews with subject matter experts – knowing they’re not always your target. And sniffing around the ether, searching for poster not pasters.

    But the last technique — the most important technique — is the planning framework. Extending the cooking metaphor, it’s landing on which ingredients to use in your strategy dish. For me, the ingredients are few. One brand claim and three proof planks. The planks are kindred ingredients or proof supporting the claim.  

    You build brands with three proof planks. Not four, not five.  It can’t be four and a half. Too many planks ruin a brand. It’s the way the brain works. 

    For examples the claim and proof framework in your business category, please write me at Proof.






    Hudson Yards and Brand Strategy.


    I was reading an amazing piece in today’s New York Times, written by architecture critic Michael Kimmelman.  This is why I subscribe to the NYT. It’s an amazingly constructed criticism of the Hudson Yards project. Nary a mention of state and city tax subsidies, the piece just discusses the beauty (not much) and blight (more than enough) of the project designs. The writer is brutal but fair. No name calling, no Trumpian vilification, but make no mistake he skewers the architecture. Old NY style. This is brilliant reporting and analysis. Bravo New York Times.

    At one point Mr. Kimmelman refers to the project as an “architectural petting zoo.” His reference is to a loose federation of structure shapes and designs. (Does one put the zebras next to the sloths?) He makes a point about Rockefeller Center, the last out-sized project of this kind and how at least for that project there was a lead architectural firm — one firm to oversee the vision.

    This reminds me of brand management. Good brand craft oversees everything brand. Poor brand craft allows for many hands and agendas in the pot. Just as the Hudson Yards is a “doggy’s dinner” of styles and structures, a good brand needs harmony and continuity as it scales.

    Perhaps that’s why the terms brand architecture has stuck for so long.  But as we see from Mr. Kimmelman’s piece, there are architects and there are federations of architects.





    Brand Strategy Definition.


    Everybody in America can define the word “brand.” The Kardashians have made the definition more diffuse but still the word has amazing recognition.  Add the word “strategy” behind brand and it makes the task a little harder. Yet people know what the word strategy means so everyone should be able follow semantically.  Honestly though, the big honkin’ problem with the brand strategy business is very few people can actually articulate a process or framework for brand strategy. A means by which or protocol for enacting one, that is. 

    This is akin to people in the advertising business being good at creating ad and not good at selling product – the ultimate goal of advertising.

    There are a lot of smart people in brand planning, don’t get me wrong.  But most are paid by ad agencies to provide and insight or two to tickle the creative department.  And those who are employed by branding firms (e.g., Interbrand, Landor) are, in the main, armies of mid-managers paid to enhance presentations of names, logos, color palettes and experiential effluvia. Brand craft is more like the ad business (present stuff) than about the strategy.

    Starting at the beginning, a proper definition of brand strategy is “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  If your organizing principle is not organized, meaning it’s too broad or hard to articulate, it’s not an organizing principle.

    Tomorrow, a look at “product,” the first of the troika of brand strategy components.




    Gap and Old Navy Divorce.


    Gap and Old Navy have decided to spilt up.  Gap, with sales down 5%, will keep a number of portfolio brands and Old Navy, more of a value brand whose sales are up, will land on its own.  Explanations for the split suggest Old Navy and Gap customers don’t really overlap and store operations are a bit different – so it’s a good split.

    From a branding standpoint, I like the idea. Retail brands staying with the Gap include Banana Republic, Athleta, Intermix and Hill City.  Old Navy is reported to be “a little more fast-fashion, more quick, lower price point,” according to Greg Portell of consulting firm A.T Kearney. That makes Old Navy a good $9B standalone company.

    When looking at the care-abouts and good-ats of each brand (Gap and Old Navy), you are likely to uncover competitive advantages, unflattering to the other. And while I’m religious about building positive brand value, playing off of a competitor’s negatives is fair. When both brands are under one roof, management does not allow insinuations or pot shots, which can inhibit brandcraft.

    So the gloves will come off. Gap continues to have work to do. Old Navy better double down. Let’s go!





    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.






    Things we remember.







    We remember beauty.

    We remember new.

     We remember rich.

     We remember melody.

    We remember funny.  

    We remember nature.

     We remember poetry.

     We remember pain.

     We remember educators.

     We remember warmth.

     We remember charity.

     We remember happy.

     We remember love.

     We remember triumph.

     These are the things we remember.

     These are the things consumers remember.

     (I post this brand planner’s prayer once a year…as a reminder.)

    Mistrust of Google? Huh?


    The level of hypocrisy at the House Judiciary Committee’s grilling of Google CEO Sundar Pichai yesterday was amazing. Committee members and staffers probably use Google in their day jobs, 100 times a day.  These men and women, who accept funds from any and every influencer group in the country (both sides of the aisle) have the audacity to ask Mr. Pichai, about selling a little date to fund a free tool the size and scope of Google is preposterous!

    Of course Google will push the boundaries. It would be unAmerican not to. But to bandy about the word of “distrust” and “mistrust” for a digital utility that is trusted more than any other on the planet is ludicrous.  America loves it’s Google. Billions of times a day.

    When embarrassed by the probes concerning public trust does Google publicly threaten to shut down its engine?  No. It listens, answers logically, unemotionally and learns.

    Now, where should I send my donation to your campaign Mr. McCarthy, house majority leader?  As if.



    Why Brand Strategy?


    The brandstrategy framework used at What’s The Idea? is not an impenetrable membrane.  That is to say, it is not a wall that keeps out creative ideas and marketing executions. Sure, there may be some brand policing by brand manager, but brand strategy is not meant to create “the land of no.”  Think of brand strategy as a springboard for creative ideas. A place to start.

    The What’s The Idea? framework comprises one claim and three proof planks.  A claim is a statement of value to a consumer; something they want. The stronger the want or need, the better the claim. As for the proof planks, they are exactly that. Proofs of claim. Proof planks are the foundation of brand stories. They create muscle memory for consumers as to why the claim is true.

    The claim and proof array open the doors to creative thought, it doesn’t  close it. This is not untamed creative thought or “creative for creative’s sake,” but ideation based upon an organized selling strategy that builds brands.

    Brand strategy organizes the creative mind.




    Learning Through Failure.


    The first step in brand strategy is getting the product Is-Does right.  They ability to articulate what a product Is and what the product Does sounds easy, but it’s not.  I developed this simple concept while working at a tech startup where the product was a software as a service (SaaS) called Zude. Because the management team couldn’t get the Is-Does right, we failed.  

    The term of art “elevator speech” is the result of an improper Is-Does.  If it takes an elevator ride to explain your product, you are little toasty.  iPhone was a phone, albeit a very functional phone.  If it was called a Newton (hee hee) it may not have survived.

    Zude’s Is-Does was “the fastest easiest way to build (and manage) a website. The Is was “website builder” the Does was “fastest easiest.”  But the management team could not completely agree. The technologist, who understood code and features but not consumers, kept building until Zude was part video platform, part social network, part advertising company…you get the picture.

    Get the Is-Does right and there may be an Is to build a brand around.