whats the idea

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Every brief is a brand brief…that is, until the brand brief is actually written.  This is my life. A friend asked for some help with his website. I was paralyzed until I wrote a brand brief.  “Can’t you just write copy for the website? Only a couple of pages?” Sorry.  

A brand consultancy asked me to work on an idea for a top six business consulting company – they really wanted a brochure. “Love to help. Gotta do a brand brief first.” Want me to write an ad for your energy drink? Brand brief.

I can’t go tactical — not in good conscience — until I understand the organizing principle aka the brand strategy. I’d have restless leg syndrome. I’d be afraid I would do something to hurt the brand – which would be hard since without a brand brief “Who knew?” what would help the brand. 

So this is my career dilemma. The boulder I must push up the mountain. Wouldn’t have it any other way.




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I’ve written tons of briefs.  Mostly for ads. The last quarter ton have been mostly brand strategy briefs which create “the organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” My first healthcare brand brief was for the North Shore-LIJ Health System, now Northwell Health.  Fifteen years and 3 agencies later, I’m still excited to hear my strategy every time it pops up on radio, TV or community newspaper. But my head wasn’t into it when I first put paper to pen – I mean how exciting could a healthcare brand be?


Healthcare, even back in the day, was a crazy fertile space to develop strategy. We’re not just talking whiter teeth here (done that), we’re talking life. Death sometimes. Family. And powerful emotions.

Since North Shore, I’ve done hospice work, nutrition, obesity, accountable care, senior care, acute rehab and global care. The insights have been some of the most exciting I’ve ever encountered. Healthcare is even more exciting today, if you make it so.

To health.



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Home delivery is becoming a retail utility. As we gobble up planetary resources and spit out carbon particulates, smart people are going to realize that multiple deliveries each day make no sense.

The US Postal Service, may pass the UPS truck, who drives by the FedEx van to your front door. The Pea Pod man may be in the driveway while this happens, tipping his hat the newspaper delivery lady, parked in front of Blue Apron meal service. And don’t get me started on the pizza kid.

I see a future where a smart companies like Amazon or Uber or TBD recognize the logistics opportunity of collapsing these deliveries into one.  When we to do a better job of consolidating deliveries, we might take 10% of the traffic off our highways.

44% of US homes subscribe to Amazon Prime receiving free shipping. But these are likely individual delivery shipments. Gas. Carbons.

Where the utility idea comes into play is, perhaps, at the post office. All inbound products are amassed somewhere for a one-time a day drop off. Let’s put some energy into this idea. It’s a planetary problem.



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Though I am of the belief that political strategists have a lot to learn from brand planners, I do acknowledge borrowing some tools from politics; for instance, the nomenclature for my “brand plank” framework comes from the political arena.  Reading a political story yesterday, in which the word “agenda” came up, I immediately wondered how to use brand agenda in my practice. Clearly a plan needs an agenda. A strategy needs an agenda. But admittedly, an agenda is for a strategist not a consumer. So let’s think this through.

The brand planners adheres to an agenda.

The brand managers adheres to the planks.

And consumers? Consumers adhere to the (brand) idea.

As I think about incorporating a brand agenda into my process, where does it fit?

Does it sit at the beginning of the brief along with Brand Position and Brand Objective? Should it come in at the end after the idea is born. After the planks are scribed and the target parsed?

And what should a brand agenda look like? Is it single-minded? Longer form? Short and pithy?

Let me sleep on it, but I think it should be the last thing on the brief. And in answer to what it should look like, I’m leaning toward “yes, yes and yes, yes.”)




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I like beer. More accurately, craft beer. The wifus was at Costco a few days ago and asked if I wanted a case of Kirkland craft beer. I’d seen them in the store but never paid them much mind. “No thank you” I texted back, but was too late. In the fridge last night looking for a Fat Tire or Montauk, Session IPA there was that case of Kirkland. Doh! So I tried one. Wasn’t bad.

I thought I’d heard somewhere that Kirkland was white-labelled by a more famous brewery. After checking the label it turned out the beer was brewed by an unfamiliar company in Minnesota or Wisconsin. A Google search suggested, based upon where your Costco is, it could also be brewed by Saranac or Gordon Biersch. What evs. Not the point,

The point is, what is the brand name on the label?  And what it says to the brain and the taste buds. Kirkland makes underwear. And olive oil. And batteries (maybe.) It therefore can’t make beer.

The smart men and women at Costco headquarters have to know this. They have a chance to establish a strong new brand in a not insignificant category. Let’s get to work on a new name.  The beer is spoiling.



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I was on the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach this past weekend and came across this little dispensing display. It was sampled SPF 30 sun screen by Brightguard.

“In Situ” marketing is an exciting new addition to the new advertising arsenal.  Placing ads or doing sampling in a places of product or service impact is the best form of marketing.

On the boardwalk at Rockaway beach, there are a number of food pavilions. A good number offer healthier alternative foods.  (I had the most amazing best veggie burger there.)  Lots of smoothies, watermelon drinks, avocado toast with virgin olive oil on grain bread — suffice it to say, people who like healthy go to these eateries on the beach. This would be a good place for an ad placement for say a cold pressed juice company.

The In Situ ad placement approach is not about reach and frequency, it’s about mindset intent.  In Situ is a multiplier for effectiveness. A fish where the fish are approach.

If you want to dial up your comms planning and media results smart to think In Situ,






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One of my primary tools in brand planning is a questionnaire used with C-level executives. The questions stay away from quantitative metrics about business revenue and profit and delve into market and sales realities, perceptions and attitudes. 

The last question I like to ask is “Fast forward 1 year. The new marketing plan and strategy have been a huge success. Everyone is extremely pleased.  What have we accomplished?”  This question has always put a nice cherry on the Sundae. I’ve decided to change it up a bit.  I’m looking to put a new level of illumination on the question – to bring out even more emotional highs.

Here’s the new one:

“Fast forward 1 year.  The Wall Street Journal has written a cover story for its Business and Tech Section on your company. It has highlighted key financial gains and strategic accomplishments over the last 12 months.  Please write the headline, read me the first paragraph and share a possible visual for the story.”

Can’t wait to try it out.





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Yesterday while driving to work I found myself singing the Mavis Discount Tire song with the radio.  Later I heard the familiar voice of the Winthrop University Hospital announcer. My friends Mike Welch and Jack Schultheis handle that advertising, but even so, I immediately knew it was Winthrop from the music and voice.

Radio is still a powerful ad medium.  It’s a unique way, at a reasonable cost, to condition consumers to listen, associate and remember. When working on North Shore-LIJ Health System years ago, I used lots of radio to extent the TV work.  It worked brilliantly.

But while singing the Mavis Discount Tire radio song I wondered if it was a reason to buy?

I reckoned consciously I knew the price is right, thanks to the name, but with the web and search so prevalent is name awareness enough to tip the scales?  Has the ability to simply slip a phone from my pocket and say “best tire prices near me” changed the formula for advertising?   

Search changes everything in marketing. The first page web experience is critical. We “twitch to buy” today. Radio needs to recognize and account for this.

My kids are in their twenties. Both have two phones. When they sing the discount tire song are they Google searching for other tire stores? You bet they are.





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A while back I spent 8 months at a K12 educational development company called Teq and it changed how I approach branding and marketing. My approach is more beholden to pedagogy than selling — though selling is still the objective.

This morning I was reading a nice piece in the NY Times about the use of technology in education. Features included Marc Benioff (software), Reed Hastings (algorithm) and Mark Zuckerburg (student-centered).  In Mr. Zuckerberg’s segment the quote “Now educators are no longer classroom leaders, but helpmates.” While this statement may be a little too “new world,” it rang a bell.    

The best brand strategies are those understood throughout a company. They can be taught but are best when learned and believed. Proper training allows every employee to be a brand learner. And more importantly, a brand practicer.

When all employees get the claim and proof planks of a brand strategy, it accelerates penetration into the consumer ethos. Talk about mission and culture in a company all you want, branding is not about memorization it’s about practice. Start with the teachers. (The more the better.) Then “helpmate” the consumers.



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