whats the idea

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Mitch McConnell recently accused President Donald Trump of “excessive expectations” with regard to the speed at which democracy moves.  As a brand planner I kind of like excessive expectations.  The right brand strategy can snowball into many more business accomplishments than most marketing directors would ever agree to.  I like to load up on business objectives when thinking about brand strategy.   

I once explained to the head of marketing at a huge health care system that the brand strategy would increase nurse retention. And reduce the cost of physician hiring. A demure man, he was near apoplectic. “Get the shredder.”

Don’t misunderstand, I am not suggesting a broad and diffuse brand strategy that attempts to accomplish too much – a.k.a. The Fruit Cocktail Effect. (Google it.) Brand strategy needs to be tight: One claim, three proof planks.  But the more excessive the expectations during the planning stages, the more likely the finished product will deliver.

Powerful bespoke brand strategy starts with high expectation.

Peace.

 

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If I say Las Vegas shooting you know what I mean. If I type “Las Vegas sh..” into Google, it auto defaults. In 5 years if I say Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino are you likely to think of the same carnage? Hopefully not.

The words “nine one one” have a very different meaning than the words “nine eleven.” Words high-jacked by violent human and natural disasters affectively become brands. Disaster brands. There aren’t going to be a lot of babies named “Sandy,” for instance, on the south shore of Long Island for a long while. Columbine, Pulse Nightclub, the list goes on.

Disasters are happening more and more in our society. And how they are propagated and recorded in history are mostly determined by the media. If the media overuses Mandalay Bay as shorthand for the Las Vegas massacre, it will completely ruin that brand. As of now, it’s still a tossup whether Mandalay Bay can last as a brand.

Media people tend to favor location-based naming. Yet even that can put a blight on a community, read “Amityville, Horror.” Sandy Hook has etched it name into our collective minds…and the school was torn down. Newtown, CT the location of the school is slowly healing as a disaster brand. 

I don’t know the answer. I just want to suggest a more sensitive approach to creating names for these violent disasters.  

Any thoughts?

Peace.

 

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Gender in Branding.

The Boy Scouts of America are getting ready to allow girls as members. Bravo. Or should say Brava?  Legislating inclusion is very American.  If girls want to join the Boy Scouts and their parents agree, go for it. Jealousy, bullying, sexual harassment and other injustices are going to happen regardless of age, dominion or organization.  It’s up to peers, adults, parents and law to adjudicate. And maybe by allowing this inclusion we’ll get a step closer to removing these behaviors.

But let’s drop the politics for just a minute and ask “What’s the best way forward for the Boy Scouts of America brand?”  The easy answer would be to go to “Scouts of America.” But that might subvert the Girls Scouts.  

If we look at the mission of BSA, which by the way is not on the website that I could find, the word “boy” isn’t that important. In an article I read to today, a proponent of letting girls in said “leadership” is what BSA is all about. And leadership certainly plays no gender favorites.

If girls want to be in the organization. Let them. If they decide in a few years they want a new name for the org, let them propose it. I’m okay with changing brand names for the right reasons. Strategy change is a right reason. Product change is a right reason. But I’m also a fan of brand equity. Hard won brand values, acquired over time, shouldn’t be tossed away so a marketing director or brand agency can make a mark, or a few dollars.  For me, this “product change” change is not as important as the “character and values” non-change. 

My gut says Boy Scouts of America is right for right now.

Gender peace.

 

 

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Vision On Paper.

I first heard of Masayoshi Son, head of international conglomerate Softbank, in 2,000 when he purchased Ziff Davis.  Since then he has been quite busy.  His new big care-abouts are  Artificial Intelligence and Robots.

He has always been cutting edge – some hits, some misses – but the man is paying attention. And the man is paying. His investments are legendary.

In today’s New York Times Vijay Sharma, CEO of Paytm, said about Mr. Son “Masa is in a hurry. He sees this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where everything we touch can become a market, where we’re at the opening up of a new industrial revolution.”  

I love this “always in a hurry” worldview. I’ve never met a successful tech or industrial entrepreneur who wasn’t in a hurry. Andy Grove who drove Intel during its formative years admitted to constant paranoia. He was in a hurry.

Can you guess the best way for people who are in a hurry to be efficient? To make decisions. To learn? Brand strategy.

Brand strategy codifies vision. Ask any VC what they’re looking for in an investment and they will tell you vision. Brand strategy is vision on paper.

Peace.

 

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More and more, technology startups are being purchased by multinationals to help large ships chug into the future. Owners in hot categories like self-driving cars, streaming video and alternative energy are cashing in daily as billion dollar companies purchase their intellectual property. It’s a tech thing. The purchased companies are small, 8-15 people, so prices aren’t crazy high, but the stock agreements make sellers happy.

This makes me think about my company. I am not a tech startup. What I offer, however, is in demand: A way to harness marketing power by strengthening ties and building preference among purchasing consumers.  What I offer is a framework for business winning brand strategy. The secret sauce of the discovery process is “proof.” Ninety five percent of brand strategy firms, I’d venture, have discovery processes similar to mine: Interviews, research (primary and secondary), hierarchy of needs, stuff like that. But none look at proof, as a foundation.

I don’t expect large companies to buy What’s The Idea? Proof, my IP, is not technology. It’s not code. To many it’s ephemera.  Process is hard to value.

Peace.

 

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A lot of brand planners talk about “voice.”  The voice of the brand. It’s a metaphor, of course, and one marketers easily understand. If I close my eyes and listen to Eddie Vedder sing, I know it’s him. Voice is an identifier.

As someone who has run gazillions of dollars of radio and TV ads, I know the power of a distinct voice. It’s smart marketing, if sometimes a crutch.   

The voice metaphor falls apart when the delivery of the message outweighs what’s delivered. In branding what is delivered needs to be the brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks).  Brand strategy is content-related not piping or music. Building a brand by organizing a limited number of key values in consumers’ minds (and employees’ minds) is the fastest, most efficient way to marketing success.   

Years ago when a St. Louis focus group attendee looked at an AT&T videoconferencing ad and exclaimed “AT&T would never talk to me like that.” It was a comment about voice. When another said “If it’s from AT&T, I’m sure the videoconferencing quality will be excellent,” that’s brand strategy.

Peace.

 

 

 

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Google Reason.

I’m a big fan of  tech pundit Robert Scoble. (Wish he would start blogging again in earnest.) Robert has been head down lately on Artificial Intelligence. Part of his reduced visibility is because he’s trying to live a life but it’s also because AI isn’t fully baked.  

That said, the oven is coming to temperature on AI. Google unceremoniously announced a brand strategy shift yesterday.  Sundar Pichai, CEO, referred to Google as an “A.I. first” company.  This, at the launch of new Pixel smartphones, Google Home devices and VR and wireless headsets.  The NYT used this event to question Google’s hardware chops, and they’re partly right; but they are also missing the point.  AI is the haps. The incipient haps. And Google with its flattening-the-planet search business , Android OS and new data collection devices will feed that trough like no one else.

Big Data ain’t shit without reason. And reason is the reason Google and Alphabet and Amazon, don’t forget Amazon, are in business today. Might as well add IBM to the mix. Amazon isn’t overt about its plans, but rest assured they are in the AI biz.

I like to say it’s going to be a fun ride.  It is. Google is going full-on in AI. The apps to come will be ridiculous (millennial definition). And Mr. Scoble is going to be quite busy.

Peace.

PS. Oh, and Google Reason will be a brand.

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Before I became a brand planner I was a writer of creative briefs at an ad agency. One of the bigger refinements of my learning came at the hand of Peter Kim, McCann-Erickson NY’s the strategy officer.  He designed (or repackaged) the McCann creative brief to include what he called the Key Thought. The Key Thought was the “spark that propels the brand toward its objective.”  The word spark is what I preserved for my branding practice. I morphed Key Thought into “Claim” a more focused branding label but both are cultivated from and beholden to the word spark.

At an ad agency, a spark is the direction that gets the creative team excited about an ad.  In brand planning, the spark is the claim under which all marketing work is organized.  

When I wrote crappy briefs, before spark, they were lifeless sentences devoid of personality, culture and intrigue. Post Spark, they were strategic but poetic. More pregnant with possibility.  As a brand claim, a spark is strategic but also more interpretative.

One of my first claims with a spark was for ZDNet. Written in the 90s, the brand strategy was “For doers not browsers.” Still holds today.

Spark it up! Peace.

 

 

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Jeffrey Katzenberg is making a big bet with OPM (other people’s money) in a reported video startup designed for mobile devices. He’s looking for $2B and he’ll probably get it. Driving the idea are 500M people who watch 45 minutes of video on their phones daily. This I don’t doubt. Nor do I doubt that people want more HBO-like quality to watch, rather than silly time-kill dreck.  But Mr. Katzenberg’s business idea is founded a 10 minute high quality video segment. This is where the rubber doesn’t meet the road.

People who sit down (not stand up) to watch Game of Thrones want to settle in to the experience, not watch it on the line waiting for a chalupa.  Any dramatic video consummated in 10 minutes (probably including 1 minute of ads) feels to me like foreplay interruptus.  There’s a reason short stories are a fraction of book sales.

Mr. Katzenberg may be on to something though. Ten minutes snippets of video are not a bad idea.  But the idea is not chunking up HBO or Sundance Channel programming. Perhaps he should be looking at news-related, educational or comedic interludes. Hey not a bad name!.

He’s a little off-piste but ideas have to start somewhere.

Peace.

 

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Brand Bankruptcy.

When you’re a hammer most things look like a nail. I am brand strategy hammer. Today’s nail is Brand Bankruptcy.

I worked for 7 months at a company that went bankrupt. The lawyers made money, vendors got cents on the dollar, employees were sent home and the manufacturing plant shut down. Thirty years ago, my father’s secretary claimed personal bankruptcy. Her credit card bills were astronomical.  She continued working, I’m assumed with less new clothes.

Bankruptcy is a common state-supported financial practice. Ask General Motors.

Brand bankruptcy happens when there are not enough assets in the brand bank to cover a massive value hit. This is when poorly prepared brands go bye-bye. Tylenol had enough value to recover from the tampering scandal. Chipotle survived its food poisoning debacle. It may even have come out stronger. Coke’s formula change made a run on the brand bank, but it definitely emerged healthier, with more committed customers. 

Every brand, every company, is going to have a natural or unnatural disaster. Building brand value and banking it, is what smart companies do. It’s prepper stuff.

Good brand strategy maximizes bank assets. It organizes them. Organize and calculate the assets you put in the brand bank and they grow and grow.

Peace.

 

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