Brand Planning Tips


    merle haggard

    So I was listening to Merle Haggard yesterday and the old coot was doing a duet with Jewel and, by God, he changed his vocal treatment – his voice — on the song. It was Merle but he was trying to impress her, trying to woo her. Men! There was a gentleness to his voice that you won’t hear in most of his tunes. The tone send a message. So I’m thinking if he can change his tone and impart different meaning, sub rasa meaning, so can the rest of us. Why not use it as a brand planning tool?  So I’m playing around with an interview technique that will prompt interviewees to answer questions in various voice types. You know the voice you use when someone is confiding tragic personal news to you? Or the voice used to encourage a child who needs support? Have you a sexy voice? The key is to get the interviewee to use a topic-appropriate voice in an interview to impart greater meaning.  To do so you have to put them in a zone; coach them like an acting coach. Get them to a place where they are feeling an emotion then get them to answer your question, truthfully, but that particular voice.

    Try it, I certainly will. Peace.


    Size Matters

    Can anyone venture a guess as to why television sets are getting bigger? And flatter. And plasmatic (sorry Wendy O).  And surround sounded. Is it because our family rooms are getting bigger and we are sitting farther away from the screens? Is it because boomers are getting older and can’t see and hear as well? Is it because it allows manufacturers to extract larger margins? 
    Nope. Nope. Nope.
    It’s because we can now watch Grey’s Anatomy and other TV shows streaming on our computers making “size” and comfort the only real differentiators for TV. Size, I guess, does matter.

    Self-Driving Cars. Oh my!


    Automobile accidents in America have reached their highest points since 2008. Why, you might ask?  I suspect it’s because of mobile technology. Texting, downloading, GPS settings, lying to Waze. Even calls from mom.

    Mobile technology is here to stays and, sadly, we haven’t had the foresight to legislate it so we don’t run into one another. We need to block hand-operated digital phones used by drivers. But that may not happen. So what’s the next best thing in this age where we will only use technology and phones more? Self-driving cars.  It’s a safe alternative that will allow us to use our phones and other tech. No brainer.

    Had it not been for growth of mobile devices, self-driving cars may not have on our radar for a few more years. Perhaps we’d have cured cancer – causing the average life expectancy of Americans to reach 95. And that would have necessitated the need for self-driving cars.  We always need to see the big picture as well as the cause and effect. Just sayin’.



    Social Cookie Net

    Pepperidge Farms part of the Campbell Soup family is pushing cookies today using social networking ( They are not buying ads on Facebook or Mypace (I love calling them that,) but creating a social network through which woman can meet other women, connect and – get this—improve their social lives. They have a connection curator by the name of Sally Horchow who wrote a book on the subject offering up lots of connection-related content.
    This shit kills me. It is a classic example of the marketing tactic de jour. In the yearly planning meeting someone senior says “We need something new this year. What’s hot? Social networking? Let’s do it.”
    Do you remember way back when and some unknown kid would come up to you and say “Wanna be my friend?”   Dohhhh!   
    Marketers who set up social networks to sell product and veil it with an objective of “improving lives” are destined to fail. People are social. Networks are technical. Cookies are cookies. 
    Sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year and constantly remind your guests and friends what brands they are eating.  “Butterball is the best. Pepperidge Farm stuffing is so moist. Mrs. Smith’s Pies are the sweetest. Love that Land O Lakes Butter? Isn’t Gravy Master grand? Pass the Jolly Green Giant Beans. Just watch the improvements to your guests social lives and count how many come back next year. Listening Facebook?

    Brand Strategy Brought to Life.







    It’s hard for me but don’t want to get into politics when I talk about Meredith Corporation, the venerable magazine publisher – so I will leave the Koch Brother’s backing of Meredith’s purchase of Time Inc for another day. I will however dig into a bit of the Meredith brand. Magazines are dead the way TV was dead 10 years ago.  Yeah, the model may change, the revenue redistributed, but magazines, written by smart people, supported by wonderful pictures are not going away.

    Meredith Corporation, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa is and ever-shall-be a heartland company. America needs more and more of these companies. Even some in Silicon Valley, tired of the sturm und drang, are looking to moving inland a skosh. What I like about Meredith is they know who they are. Check out the picture of the trowel in front of headquarters.  The artist who designed this amazing, simple piece of art interpreted the company better than 100 brand strategists.

    As a branding element, this trowel is genius. It’s size, color, placement on the property – reminds employees and visitors every day what’s up at Meredith. Get your fingers dirty, get on your knees and close to the problem, start small to grow big. I love it.

    This is a wonderful example of art bringing paper to life.   I make paper strategy and I am so envious of those who build the stuff that gives it birth.




    Helly Hansen’s Impregnable Brand.


    Some brands don’t have to work hard. Their product is their brand strategy — and deeply embedded in their DNA. It comes easy because employees know what the product is, what the product does (Is-Does) and why it’s needed.  When that happens consumers/buyers can’t help but parrot that value.

    Helly Hansen is one such brand. For them, life is easy.

    I’m not exactly sure what the Helly “claim” is, but I can certainly articulate its 3 “brand planks.” They are “warm,” “dry” and “protected.”  These good-ats and the customer care-abouts and both powerful and nicely aligned. A perfect fit.

    So long as Helly Hanson spends its marketing money demonstrating warm, dry and protected, the brand can’t help but be strengthen.

    This is a great example of product and marketing working closely together. All companies should aspire to this type of relationship.



    Brand Planning Tip.


    All brand planners have their tools. We use them to corral insights and generate ideas we can sell as organizing principles for the work other will do. My go-to tools are the 24 Questions, my Executive and Sales Team Questionnaire, and a Brand Brief. From time to time I’ve used a presentation format sharing “Insights, Implications and Recommendations” as well.

    Here’s a new ditty I came up with for an art start-up a few years ago. I call it the 10 conundrums. I use it as an interim step before crafting the brand brief. After doing all my exploratory work, quant research and interviews, I cobble together a number of market, consumer and company contradiction. Perplexing contradictions or true conundrums. These I share with the client work team to see how they feel about them. How they deal with them. The dialogue about these points if often quite important. Here’s an example from my art start-up project:

    Art appreciation is personal and subjective. Yet having a trusted art-savvy acquaintance to call upon can influence that subjectivity – adding dimension and a level of comfort.

    Toolkits are nice to have. Reinventing them, adding to them and evolving them are how we get better at what we do.



    Innovation. In or out?


    Clearly, innovation is always in.  Perhaps the bigger question is whether innovation should be pursued inside the company or out.  It’s happening both ways.  Innovation is big, big business. Ad agencies, digital shops and marketing companies have Chief Innovation Officers.  Lots of money is spent in internal innovation departments and outsourced innovation companies…and the crowdsourcing phenomenon is contributing.   Pepsi outsources its innovations and it has done remarkably well with it.

    Innovation is the result of hard work and serendipity. I am of the mind that it’s most likely to occur from people doing not people sitting around thinking.  The famous story of the 3M’s Post-It note resulting from a lab spill comes to mind.

    The answer to the in or out question is a little bit of both, but working together.    Inside to set the product or service stage and context — and outside for the random, unfettered thinking and consumer insights of trained selling and marketing minds.  Peace!

    Marketing to Millennials.



    According to Harvard’s Dr. Urs Glasser, “By age 20, kids will have spent 20,000 hours online – the same amount of time a professional piano player would have spent practicing.” Were one to calculate all the television children of the 80s and 90s watched, I’m sure we’d see a comparable number. That said, TV is one-way (inbound) and online is two-way (read-write) and therefore a little healthier.


    Regular readers know I have dumbed-down Forrester Research’s Technographic segmentation study into two simple groups “Posters” and “Pasters.” According to Forrester and a couple of other sources only 8% of social media users are “posters,” or original content creators.  But, according to the Book “Born Digital” written by John Palfrey and Dr. Glaser, 35% of millennial girls and 20% of boys in the U.S. are blogging, meaning these so-called “digital natives” index very high as Posters. As such, they need to be treated differently. 


    While writing my anthropology thesis in college, I sent out letters to leading professors around the country asking for input. It took months and lots of effort on everyone’s part to gather, process and exchange all the info. Today, using email, the net, and links, I could have done this work in a day. (Digital Natives get this in ways others don’t.)


    As a brand and communications planner, understanding this culture and how Millennials buy and are sold is going to be quite a fun ride. Peace!