an organizing principle for product experience and messaging

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Brand strategy is an organizing principle that gives brand managers a “go-no go” guide for product, experience and messaging. It makes branding easy.

Nicholas Kristof in the NYT today was talking about the social entrepreneurs attending Davos and how refreshing they were to have around.  He was poo-pooing consumerists who are all about the money.

Doing “good” in a commercial sense is smart strategy.  In my practice, when I’m looking at care-abouts and god-ats, I try to plot and push brand planks that are socially positive. It’s not hard to do, and it can’t be forced, but it butts up against the nature of what makes humans humans.  

When a cigarette ad choses to shoot a photo at the top of a mountain on a bluebird day amongst cottony snow drifts, it’s hitting our natural beauty button. When a box of diapers shows an amazing toddler smile, it hits a warm, nurture button. But advertising which use positive imagery to cloud our judgement about what is “good” is disingenuous. And it give marketing a bad name.

A brand strategy, built with brand planks supporting positive social ideals is deeply human. And enduring.


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Brand strategy is, in a word, discipline. I define brand strategy as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging; that’s all fine and good. But if the paper strategy isn’t actualized by management and marketing, all is for naught. As someone who came up in the ad business, I know that getting work approved is the financial goal. Getting good work approved is the business goal. And in all the day-to-day management of those processes, holding to strategy often gets overlooked. That’s the ad business. On the marketing side, it’s even more complicated. More moving parts. So adherence to strategy isn’t easy. Business strategy is “make more money.” Brand strategy is “make more people love the brand, so you can make more money.”

It takes disciple during all the marketing horse trading to hold to a brand strategy. Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the according to Mike Tyson. That’s how it is with brand strategy. Everybody has a brand strategy until they get punched in the face. 

Strong brand is a most critical KPI. (Imagine if you changed your name every year.) It sets direction and it sets expectation. Disciplined brand strategy undergirds all successful brands.  Checkmate.



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Organizational Design is a shiny new business thing. A number of smart brand planners and digital raconteurs have noticed that many corporations are floundering using old org charts and technology. Old infrastructural assumptions. So these new change agents are hoping to consult their way to new revenue streams as org design consultants.

Ten years ago “Social Business Design” was an inchoate business response to poor organization. It attempted to alter business by using digital social tools.  Those tools turned into software and much of the concept was lost. Sure Slack is a cool social tool. Dashboards and marketing platforms have emerged and evolved – mostly to streamline and cut cost. But organizational design, the recasting of the modern business in a way to make it more responsive, agile and effective, though a fine pursuit has been mostly talk.

My consulting business is a brand consultancy. I make no promised to reorganize your business. But organizational design is a likely and probable outcome. 

Defined as “An organizing principle for product, experience and messaging,” brand strategy has the potential to touch everything: supply chain, customer care, manufacturing quality, hiring, and advertising. All are possible levers in brand strategy. 

Brand strategy ain’t what it used to was.



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Brand Leadership.

I’ve written a lot about leaders and their role in brand building. When in the presence of a great leader you can feel it. In the presence of a faux leader, the same. I’ve been a good leader and a poor leader and all the time it’s just me. Why the difference? Why the variability?

There are times to use the pimp hand and times for succor. Knowing which to use and when are key.  I just write off the variability to being human. To being fallible. Learn. Learn constantly and keep leading.

Brand don’t have brains. So brand leadership isn’t as hard. With a good brand strategy in place – brand strategy defined as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging – brand leadership becomes easy. A brand is either on or it’s off. No emotions, no jealousy, no envy. Just one claim and three proof planks.

With a good brand strategy in place, even (human) corporate leadership is easier. As I said earlier this week, brand strategy is like penicillin.



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I’ve been talking to a magician about doing some branding work for him. We chatted about the Is-Does – what a brand is and brand a brand does – something that is not as necessary for a magician as it is for, say, a startup. But there are many flavors of magician. So finding your magic sweet spot, is important in so far as positioning. Cards? Illusion? Big stage? Escape?

As we talked, I realized that a performance-based brand (an act really) may require slightly more scope than a company. If a brand strategy is “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging,” then the proofs of the brand claim may include, things like introductory music. It could also include costume, staging, lighting, and lots of other things I’ve never thought about as elements of a brand plan.  It’s rather exciting, actually. The unknowns are aplenty. Kind of like magic.

Should be fun.  Peace.


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I’m going out on a limb here to say the majority of marketing buildables, e.g., ads, websites, PR plans, research studies, and content marketing are created sans a brand brief.

The tendency for agencies to work off a brand brief is much greater than for one-off contractors, but even they tend to use a campaign briefs or tactical briefs.  Whose fault is this? Clients. It’s the client who provides the input…and the approvals. It’s the client who needs to have an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging (aka brand strategy). It is the client who needs to codify it and make it sharable.  

Smart ad agents/contractors ask clients “Do you have a brand brief?,” but know the answer is “no.”  Every company has a website. How many of those writers and coders worked from a brand brief? Every company has an ad. Same question. Every marketer will tell you they have a brand. 95% of those people can’t articulate that brand in a clear, concise way. They don’t have a brief.



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Brand strategy is a bit like plumbing.  The theory is nice but it’s the real pipes and engineering that carry the water.  I say this because when I read or see many people interviewed about branding they often answer with authority, but generically.  Sure brands need an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. Sure they need visual and style directives. Of course, they need to promote values that help sell and satisfy. But the real business of branding can only be discussed in depth, with alacrity, when the strategy itself is known. 

To ask a so-called brand expert questions about branding or tactics, sans actual strategy, is like asking president Trump about policy. All you get is “wonderfuls” or “disasters.” You don’t get meaningful, actionable insight. To going back to the original plumbing metaphor, you get discussion about pipes, elbows, resin and leaks.  Brand experts, me included, need to dole out advice citing actual strategic examples. Not generics.



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I play Google like a Stradivarius. But it helps top blog a lot. Actually blogging is foundational to how I play my violin.  I was reading Thomas Friedman today and in his Op-Ed column he suggested readers Google “power drills to the head and Shiite militias in Iraq.”  Please don’t, I‘m just making point.  Mr. Friedman knows how one can direct people about the web by simply offering key words or key phrases. I’ve been doing the key phrase thing for years. And key wording them in my daily blog for years.  In many cases, in the branding world, they have become memes.

It’s heaving lifting and takes commitment. It’s also cleaner than white or black hat SEO manipulation. When I direct people to my definition of branding as “An organizing principle for product experience and messaging” they find me.  When I tell prospects to Google “social media guardrails” they find me. “One claim three proof planks” is indexed by Google straight to me.

Are you hearing that violin? Back pat, back pat.



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Probably the most overused work in marketing the last 5 years is disruption. Maybe the last 10 years.  If you were to put all the marketing conference speeches given since 2010 into a cull rack and block from falling through the ones with “disruption” in the title, you’d have a stack a mile high. Google SXSW speeches, book titles or blog posts.

Do you want to know something that is truly disruptive? Brand strategy. Huh?  Brand strategy.  Everybody has one they’ll tell you, but no one can articulate it. Not clearly.  Because brand strategy means so many things to so many people, it has become a nonentity. A quagmire within a morass.

Here’s the deal: A brand strategy is an “Organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” Nothing less. The framework for such is “One Claim and Three Proof Planks.” Nothing less. And certainly, nothing more.

If you’d like to truly disrupt your business. If you’d like to make clear and easy marketing decisions. If you’d like to measure effectiveness with almost binary simplicity, consider a brand strategy. (And this is not a packaged goods thing. It’s a marketing thing.)



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There are a number of brand strategy consultants out there I hold in high regard. They totally get insights and market conditions, are quick studies in business categories, have keen understanding of meaningful metrics, and possess indefatigable bullshit barometers. Sadly, I’m seeing a trend among this crew where they are reinventing and repositioning themselves away from pure brand work into other aligned areas. Customer experience. Team optimization. Digital transformation. Culture plotting.

Why is this?

Well, that’s what the market sparks to. Most marketers and business owners don’t think they need a brand strategy. They want measurable results on sales. Higher top line and lower bottom lines.  What they don’t understand is that those things are directly tied – or can be tied – to a smart brand strategy. When you define brand strategy as “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” you begin to understand how brand strategy can impact bottom lines. And top lines.

Tomorrow I’ll share some business metrics side-by-side with brand metrics. I encourage you to tell me which are more actionable.



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