whats the idea

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Two titans of retail are facing off and it’s going to be wild.  Walmart and Amazon. Amazon and Walmart. There will be only winners: the businesses and the custies.  Amazon continues to kill it in online retail. So much so, in fact, that they’re looking into some brick and mortar places to make product access near-instantaneous.  Walmart is beginning to get that 800 lb. monkey off its back (low price, low-esteem, box store with bad vegetables), by ramping up its online offering. It quintupled online SKUs in one year thanks to purchases like Jet.com and others.

The real war zone, when it comes to customer marketing, will be brand-side.  Amazon has an amazing brand that is maturing. An overdog I like to call it. Walmart in a heart brand that many people view as high-traffic but low-value. Don’t get me wrong, the retail product has value, but the brand is a little lacking in the amygdala, as brand expert Megan Kent might say.

Both brands have the money and leadership to innovate. Both have the dough to execute. Now it will be up to the brand leaders to create some excitement. Walmart faces more of an uphill challenge. One any brand strategist would love to tackle. But we all know what happened to the overdogs.

Peace.    

 

 

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I write a good deal about pent-up demand. It is a marketer’s best friend.  When Miller Lite was launched no one had ever successfully marketed a low calorie beer. Ergo there was no demand. The market had to be educated as to the value of light beer.  Once done, demand was there.  No pent-up demand.

Marketing and brand planners should always look for pent-up demand in the market. When it’s obvious, E.g., cheaper taxi rides (Uber), better tasting hamburger (Shake Shack), life is easy. When a product value is not obvious, finding pend-up demand is a chore.  For Excel Commercial Maintenance, a building cleaning service whose customers care most about low price, a brand strategy “The navy seals of commercial maintenance” met pent-up demand for fast, fastidious and proactive workers. Something purchasers rarely talked about.

Not every product or service offers a marketing with a deep undying demand for a feature or function. But if you don’t dig deep you are not doing your planning job.

Peace.

 

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In the early months, Stitch Fix did not have enough money to do advertising. This was a good thing. Start-ups today often have A or B round money to spend on demand generation ad programs.  I like the idea of running a start-up without advertising – for a while at least. It puts employees and consumers in charge of marketing. Not agents. Creative directors, media buyers and English majors shouldn’t be responsible for new product success.

When there is no start-up ad budget, there are no false prophets. Just product and consumers.

Advertising is an accelerant to be introduced when the product is right. When the product meets pent-up demand.  Ads, done well, are also expensive. Ads done poorly can also be expensive, by making the company look gooberish. Unprofessional.

Just as France has a moratorium on media 24 hours before an election, start-ups should have a moratorium on advertising for the first 6 months.

Peace.

 

 

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Group Solve.

Marketing is problem solving. Through productizing and service-izing. And since marketing is inextricably linked to branding, problem solving is inherently a good brand strategy trait.

The digital economy has brought us many things to be excited about as marketers: the web, big data, small batch/craft economy offerings, and the Uberization of services aka the sharing economy. But when it comes to problem solving, few of these things are as exciting to me as the “group-solve” phenomenon.  Think open source R&D.

Recently, the Opioid Epidemic Challenge Summit hack-a-thon sponsored by Mass General Hospital and the GE Foundation came up with a Narcan lock box idea that may stem death by opioids. A number of years ago, I worked on an idea called Future Boston (there’s that city again), whereby virtual teams were to come together to solve Boston city problems like traffic, education and population health. This teaming event was sponsored by MIT, IEEE, and the Boston Globe. (Disclosure: it never made it out of plan.)

By bringing great and willing minds together in these hack-a-thon problem solving initiatives, we are doing what humans, with our large brain cases, do best.

When marketers crowd source problems, sans economic motive, amazing things can happen. This is not just a non-profit space, it’s for all members of the commercial community.

Peace.                      

 

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When Milos Forman was auditioning Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito for One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, he had them sit in a faux group therapy circle and vamp lines. When something seemed off he repeatedly instructed “That is not natural.” 

At one point in my career, having never, ever had a real sales job, a la David Ogilvy selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, I decided to make amends.  I had done lots of ride-arounds with salesman, interviewed them ad nauseam, but never felt what it was like to look consumers in the eye and be paid based on my ability to make them buy.  

I did have a little head start in sales having sat through hundreds of hours of consumer focus groups and having read hours and hours of attitude and awareness studies, but looking Mary Q. Public and getting her to unsnap her purse, not so much.

Sales is hard. I learned that whenever I was “selling” and it didn’t sound natural, I wasn’t really selling. I was wasting breath. When I sounded like a commercial or a brochure, I was wasting time. This lesson has served me well as a brand planner. When I use words in strategy that sound like selling, that are off-pitch (music pitch), I have more work to do. If brand strategy isn’t natural, it isn’t effective.

Peace.

 

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At What’s The Idea? clients pay the bills. They do the hiring, provide the homegrown insights and share business data. Without clients there would be no brand consultancy.  But clients are not my customer. My customer is the brand. It is the brand to which I pay allegiance. It is the brand that is the object of my strategic desire. By being so focused it helps remediate politics from the equation.  

By putting the brand first and the people and clients second, it cleanses the process. Brands have no egos.  They just sit at the nexus of good-ats and care-abouts.  A brand doesn’t look to be promoted or aspire to Ad Age Marketer Of The Year. You can’t artificial intelligence your way around a brand. It’s a thing or service.

Don’t get me wrong, I need people to help navigate insight work. The stories, the human impact of purchase and use, the role of the product, can never be ably understood without people — be they brand and product manager or consumer and influencer.

But when all is said and done the brand must be the customer. At What’s The Idea? that pays the bills and provides the dividends.

Peace.

 

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Salesforce, a spectacular online business, ran an ad today in the NYT paper paper using a tried and true ad tactic “the testimonial.”  Amazon Web Service was the customer. Both are great companies, but the ad was so weak. It’s what my dad Fred Poppe might have called the “doggy’s dinner.”

Central to the idea is something called the (initial caps) Customer Success Platform. Oy. Luckily, the Customer Service Platform is powered by (initial cap) Einstein artificial intelligence. A skootch better.  It “qualifies leads, predicts when customers are ready to buy, and helps them close more deals.”  This is actually stuff a real copywriter could work with — but as written it’s all claim, no proof.   

To make matters worse the ad ends with “What if you had a way to help your business take flight?” followed by the Salesforcrce logo (When did they lose the .com in the logo?) and tagline “Blaze new trails.”  Flight? Trails? Talk about mixing your metaphors.

It’s as if someone used an ad-by-numbers kit.

For a company as successful and powerful as Salesforce, you’d think they could put together a cogent, well-craft print ad.  Maybe they should download a Hubspot template. JKJK.  

Peace.

 

 

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Fred Wilson is a blogger (www.avc.com) and businessman I admire greatly. He blogs daily and share his knowledge without second thought.  He’s probably the most prominent VC on the east coast if not the county.  In a recent speech given at MIT, he mentioned that on his first ever test there he had gotten a zero.  About MIT he said, and I paraphrase, “When you go to MIT to go from being the smartest kid at your school to being the dumbest.” Anyway when asked about his nil test score his professor the response was “You didn’t understand the question.”

Here’s the thing about brand planning. The ones who get it right aren’t the ones with the best methodology or framework. They are the ones who understand the question. The problem is that question always changes. Yesterday I posted brand strategy is not Chaos Theory.  But if the question changes for every brand strategy, isn’t that a bit chaotic?

A generic question for all brands might be “What value or behavior does the brand provide that best meets the needs of the customer?”  Doesn’t seem like a bad question. But, per Fred Wilson’s professor, it’s the wrong one. Only when you are waist deep in a brand, customer care-abouts and brand good-ats can one ask the real question. It will be a business question, tempered by consumer insight, and help you pass that first and last test.

Happy hunting!

Peace.

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Wikipedia defines deterministic system this way:

“In mathematics and physics, a deterministic system is a system in which no randomness is involved in the development of future states of the system. A deterministic model will thus always produce the same output from a given starting condition or initial state.”

I am here to argue that brand strategy is s deterministic system. Most would argue it’s chaos theory.  Frankly, most people would be right. Brand strategy is chaotic. It is random,

Ninety percent of marketing organizations are set up to deal with brand strategy as a communications consequence. “We need order in our messaging, ergo we need a brand strategy.” Tasked with spending money mainly on ads and events, these orgs spend hundreds of millions each year on naming, logo development, style manuals and ad templates. Landor says, “Thank you very much.”

A smaller number of marketing orgs take it to the next level plotting out consumer experience; mainly in retail or online settings. What does t a Dunkin’ Donuts store look like? Where do we put the seasonal stuff at Costco? How do we offer online professional development at Teq?

And lastly, in the smallest percentage of marketing organizations, are those who actually think about the product. What do we do to the product to improve it to meet customer needs? Or with what do we replace our product to better deliver our value promise?

A tight brand strategy leaves nothing to chance. It speaks to all three marketing organizational models.  One claim and three proof planks drive all measures of business success. It starts at the brand level and IS accountable. I used to call it Return On Strategy (ROS), I now call it Return On Brand Strategy (ROBS.) Stay tuned.

Peace.           

 

 

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I am loath to admit it, but What’s The Idea? is a small batch brand strategy consultancy.  The market has been conditioned to think a large corporate brand strategy has to cost $100,000; add another $150k for naming and logo design. Most of my clients don’t have that kind of money. My clients tend to be small and mid-size or start-ups.

My framework for brand strategy – one claim, three proof planks – is tight and enduring.  But for some larger businesses, helmed by multivariate MBAs, it may seem overly simplistic.  And inexpensive. Simplicity is its beauty, frankly.

In small batches, with only 40 or 80 hours invested in research and planning, the process has to be relatively simple.  The information gathering metaphor I use is the stock pot. My cognitive approach, the “boil down.”  When you work in small batches, you self-limit your ingredients. You know what not to heap into the pot.

I’ve done small batch brand strategy for crazy-complicated business lines. A global top 5 consulting company with a health and security practice and a preeminent hacker group who helps the government keep us safe. Small batches both.

Try the small batch approach. As Ben Benson used to say, you are going to like it.

Peace.  

 

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