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The lifeblood of my business is contacts. When I’m in full-blown biz/dev mode I’m emailing lots of people I know and many I’d like to know.  Cold emails have been a building block of What’s The Idea?. If you’ve been on the receiving end you know what I’m talking about.

My intent with email solicitation is to be personal, business specific and very much “not about me.” The value I hope to produce is value on the topic of branding that speaks to the reader from their point of view.

If I write about “you” and things of interest to “you,” I may get your attention.

As an outbound writer of business development emails, I have open eyes and ears to other sellers. Therefore, I subscribe to many, many email lists and am a member of more websites than most. Sadly, I allow most of these emails to clutter my in box with nary an open. It’s time to unclutter.

Today I’m going on a crusade to unsub all the flah flah flah. Maybe it will save a tree or a planetary degree. If the email sender does not start sharing real value in my email box — value to me not them — they are gone.

Maybe next I’ll start to unfriend Twitter followers.

Dumping a little marketing cache ain’t a bad thing. Peace.


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An entertainer contacted me about a year ago, inquiring about branding. Pretty smart inquiry. 

I remember pushing back when Kim Kardashian and others referred to themselves as brands – and I’m still a little leery. That said, this entertainer did need some help. As I thought more about it, the job really is about packaging. He had a stage act and from what I was told it was quite good. So what kind of packaging would set this act apart?  If we delved into “good-ats” and “care-abouts,” as we would with any brand strategy, we could certainly craft a name.  We’d obviously need a brief for that, buoyed by a claim.  (I thought of James Brown’s claim “The hardest working man ins show business.”) Then we’d define his proof planks – another part of the personal brand strategy to help organize everything – act included.

Lastly, we could dabble in his stage clothing (costume?), intro music, color palette and persona.  Have you ever seen Sebastian Maniscalco? That’s a persona. 

I’ve never done a brand strategy for a person. For a product, service, company — sure. But a  person, no. Looks like I might get a chance.  He called yesterday.  



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Repetition is an old saw in the advertising business. Reach and frequency being words we grew up on. Reach is the total target you hit with a message and frequency is the number of times it was seen by said target.  If you bonk people on the head enough times with your message, they’ll remember it, the logic goes. “Give us 15 minutes, we’ll save you 15% on your car insurance,” for instance. Repetition.

Education is another way to also gather attention. Tell someone something interesting, something they didn’t know, and they’ll work to retain it. Fill up space in the gray matter cache…it sticks. In brand strategy, I’m a big fan of education.  Remember back in the day when you used to defrag your computer?  Maximizing space by removing empty spots in the drive? Closing up duplicates?  That’s what learning does. Interesting, new information makes the brain work. It makes the brain conclude. That’s how information rises to the top.

If your marketing communications aren’t educating, they’re lazy comms.




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My branding thesis is built upon the idea that 90% of marketing communications is hot air. That leaves only 10% for the good stuff: real selling. Also known as “proof” of value. In an ad brief, this might be referred to as “reasons to believe.”

Listen to a :60 second radio commercial and pull out the words that are real proof of value. A typical :60 has about 150 words. You’ll find a number of few words that purport value, e.g., best service, highest quality, scrumptious taste, but very few words of proof of value. Words that make you believe.

To prove my point, I have decided to offer up for a limited time a “Proof Workshop” to interested marketers and brand managers.  The workshop will be offered free of charge to qualifying marketing organizations. During the workshop we will go through marketing collateral, ads, PR releases, web content and point-of-sale materials to determine what’s proof and whats not. The workshop will last 90 minutes.

Along the way we may even find some proof clusters that point to an actual brand strategy.

The phones are open (516-967-3875.) So is email:




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My brand briefs are filled with heart-warming, heart wrenching twists of a phrase. They are meant to engage the Amygdala.  Trust me, they work when it comes to selling brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks.) But unless you are Bob Dylan no consumer is going to remember your poetic brand claim and proof array. They may remember a song from an ad. They may remember a tagline plastered everywhere locked up with your logo. But for lasting impact and indelible brand strategy, choose deeds over words.  Deeds and evidence.

The New York Yankees are a premier sports franchise because of their 27 world championships. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is “the best cancer care anywhere” (words) because its physicians have more experience treating cancer (deeds).

When companies bring their brands to me for help positioning, I look for deeds, evidence and proof. That’s the ore that precedes the jewelry.



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In the toast at my daughter’s wedding I plan on sharing a smidgeon of marital and parenting advice. A brand planner by trade, I make a living observing behavior then packaging it into small, memorable bits of advice.

Toast advice number 1. Don’t use the “H” word.  Both my kids should remember this one; it’s good counsel for marriage and parenting. The “H” word is the ugliest of words. More harmful than the “F” bomb and all of its scatological allies. The “H” word is the root of the word hatred… and no good comes of it. Even if you don’t like peanut butter – perhaps it causes a physical reaction – it’s not worthy of hatred.  Nor is a poor movie or book. Nor a villain. These are things one might not like, but certainly don’t merit hatred. (How many Eskimo words are there for snow?) 

Hatred and the “H” word are a blight on humanity. Yes, humanity kills. Yes, we destroy mother earth. We are jealous, we are covetous. But we needn’t minimize the root cause — using the word in our everyday language.

Start fixing ourselves. Stop using the “H” word.



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I’d like to say when it comes to brand planning my philosophy is “listening” but it’s not. Many will tell you the best cultural anthropologists are listeners, observers and silent recorders of behavior. They are.

Many brand planners today are expert listeners but not all see. Watching confirms what the ears hear. Observing can add great texture to the person interviewed.  One question I used to ask job seekers when interviewing in the ad business — after a few minutes of the interview — was, “Tell me about me.” (I almost invented the “me too” movement with the question one time, but that’s a story for another day.) The intent was to see if the candidate had any observations about my office, tidiness, books I read, etc. Non-verbal learning.

Anyway, I’ve found that the quietude that happens when one only asks a question and listens can suck the air out of an interview. A good brand planner animates. Laughs out loud. Play acts what a consumer might say or do.  It’s okay to interrupt and interject. Most of all a good interviewer shows interest. Makes the candidate some alive. Adding a pulse to a convo can move things in new directions. Also share from your own life, even things a little personal; it peels away some layers.

Listen for sure. But probe and bait for surer.



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The Toast.

My baby girl is getting married in a couple of months and I’ve been wondering what to say in the toast.  Stuff about her? Everyone in the room knows her. Stuff about her soon-to-be-husband?  Many will know him better than I. Should I lead with a joke? I’m funnier extemporaneously than when I write material.

I’ve also been thinking about the father daughter song. Should it be a song we have in common? From a concert we attended?  Should it be about a thoughtful topic or life-lesson? Will listeners parse the lyrics and read too much into it?

Then it hit me — my toast should be a tad instructive. I am, after all, a father who has been married for over 30 years.  I’m also a brand planner by training – someone paid to observe and make actionable important insights. So, how about I give this whole marriage thing some thought and share a couple, two, tree insights about the successful marriage practices. Hmmmm. I like it. So long as it isn’t about me. So long as it isn’t about my wife. Ish.

I’d like to share with my daughter something that lasts. Something that adds value to her  relationship. Something that can be passed along the family tree.

I have two months before my presentation, I mean speech. Stay tuned for the insights.



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Not sure if this is an apocryphal story or not but it certainly sounds legit. There is a 10 A.M, Delta flight out of LaGuardia weekdays that flies into Bentonville, AR home of Walmart.  Anybody who is anybody in retail, I’m told, has been on this flight known as the Bentonville Bus.  If you want to sell to Walmart, you need to meet their buyers which is best done in Bentonville. 60 Minutes did a report recently in which they stated Plattsburgh, NY gobbles up a lot of electricity used to power server farms mining Bitcoin, but I’m guessing the computing power churning in Bentonville is equally massive. 

Bentonville computer nerds spend their days running sales reports, projections, analyses and other retail magic, which they send to the desks of the buyers in preparation for hour-long meetings with sales VPs arriving daily on the Bentonville Bus. Oh, to be a fly on the wall of those meetings. The marketers on the Bentonville Bus are a Who’s Who of American industry. You can bet they have a story or two. (Might make a a great book.) The Bentonville Bus is to American business what the All-Star game is to baseball.



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Kandee Johnson is a supratypical “Posters.”  Different than a Paster, a poster is an original content creator on the web.

I first ran into Kandee while researching an assignment on Plus White teeth whitener, a national consumer brand out of New Jersey.  Kandee was a blogger and vlogger with an amazing following of young women. She had an innate sense of style but her “go-to pitch” was her ability to share clothing and make-up tips for the budget-conscious.

For those interested in teeth whitening, rather than buy the whole $18 Plus White kit, Kandee suggested buying a $2 lacrosse mouth guard and the $6 bottle of gel. She also taught young ladies how to clean makeup brushes in olive oil along with an assortment of other creative cost-saving tips. That was Kandee’s motivation; her brand claim, if you will.

Kandee’s online persona is wrapped in an amazingly smart and videogenic package, but beneath the surface is a caring, thoughtful and self-actualized women. The fact that she is drop dead gorgeous may actually have hurt her initially with her base, but it is something she has overcome.

Kandee will be on Kelly and Ryan this morning and her star continues to rise. This women who gave of herself online for years – opening her heart and talent to thousands of young women, making them laugh and cry along the way – is a web superstar. And should be nominated to the POSTER Hall of Fame.    



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