beyond the dashboard

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Brand planning is not just about words on a paper. Colors on a palette. Planks and buckets and values. Or even taglines…and I’m a big fan of taglines. (If you’re spending marketing dollars which don’t prove your tagline, you’re “off piste,” as I like to meme.)

Brand strategy is integral to marketing. As such, all brand planners are marketers. As marketers we need to be look beyond the dashboard. Look at what’s next. The earth is not flat.

My night job is to wake up with new product ideas. Ideas that deliver on the brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks).  If in consumables, I’m dreaming about making packaging more planet friendly.  I was watching a YouTube video yesterday about shampoo bars that sell sans plastic bottle and cap.  Come se Genius??

The growth of innovation labs, incubators and new product teams is a big thing today. In my humble if jaded opinion, no one is better able to crack an innovation opportunity than a brand planner – the person responsible for the care and feeding of the brand claim.



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I was thumbing through old Quora posts and noticed I had made a ringing endorsement of Google Glass.  “How could it not work?” The medical field alone would be enough to keep it an exciting new product. Wrong!

Many years ago I worked for McCann-Erickson, a top 3 advertising global agency. McCann handled Coca-Cola. They had just brought on a new creative director, Gordon Bowen, who stood before the entire NYC office in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria and he smilingly told us, “It’s Coke, how hard can it be.” It practically sells itself, he implied. Coke was gone within the year to a group called Creative Artists. A west coast talent agency.

So here’s one for the prognosticators.  Expect to be wrong. Even when you know you are right. Don’t be paranoid, but keep an eye toward the future knowing there are no absolutes.

I love to position myself as a beyond the dashboard planner. It’s where, I believe, the successful marketers need to play. But you get a black eye every now and again. Expect it. Learn from it. Parlay it.


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Embrace Change.

Sound familiar? I may have read it somewhere before.

Does The New York Times executive director Dean Baquet have to embrace change when ad revenue at the paper paper is off double digits? Does Mark Zuckerberg have to change HR bereavement policy to stay more competitive as the “new thing” luster (but not revenue) wears off the Facebook brand? Does Michael Dowling, Northwell Health CEO, have to embrace change when facing an insurance market that has to set prices for 2018 in less than three month?

For a professional that spends a lot of time looking at brand and business heritage, mining the perceptual depths of consumer, one might think I don’t embrace change. That I’m not incentivized to embrace change. You’d be wrong. Tomorrow is the only day I care about.

Sure I look for business proof that feeds the framework of brand strategy. Sure I do some rearview mirror planning. But tomorrow is “beyond the dashboard.” Future revenue is tomorrow. All earthly business delights are to be found tomorrow.



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Let’s hope LinkedIn is not Satya Nadella’s Nokia? A huge investment that goes to shit. There are a couple of cues that scare me. The admission that the “top priority for LinkedIn will be user growth.” That’s code for hurry up and make changes. Mr. Nadella has said LinkedIn will remain autonomous and Jeff Weiner will man the helm, but Microsoft doesn’t “get” autonomy.  It can’t help but play with new toys, tweaking them to what it believes will be the customers’ advantage. (They’ve already said Microsoft Office will integrate more easily with the platform.)

We’ve seen this movie before. In 10 years LinkedIn may be replaced by the “next thing.” Perhaps Snapchat meets NetPromoter?  Or Salesforce Cubed.

Microsoft needs to see beyond the dashboard and allow LinkedIn enough rope to invent the next frontier of business networking. Come on Mr. Nadella have some patience. Observe, learn, then observe some more. It was a good purchase. Let it percolate.




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Charlene Li, a great business mind, recently sold Altimeter Group to Prophet, a long standing brand and marketing concern. Charlene is, and has been, a great meme-alist. She comes up with big business ideas and memes them. These memes helped put the Altimeter Group on the map. Each meme, a mini brand, constitutes a “proof” of her innovative business approach.

Now at Prophet, however, she seems to be doing things a bit differently. Next week she is hosting a webinar on improving employee engagement. No doubt it will be a good one, because engagement has become big business these days. (Back in the early 80s my dad Fred Poppe used the word in a number of Ad Age thought pieces, giving him national cred.) That said, engagement has become a pop-marketing term and the title of Ms. Li’s talk feels a bit “early majority,” perhaps even a little “late majority” to use Geoffrey A. Moore’s framework.

What I love about Ms. Li is her “beyond the dashboard” approach. She needs to settle into her new office before mad redecorating. I suspect she will be back on her game shortly. Then watch out!




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Or keep it in the cloud. That’s the big technology question of the 21st century. That’s the big bet. As a brand planner who likes to operate “beyond the dashboard,” I love looking into behavior, purchase patterns and technology advances trying to come up with macro commercial trends.

Nokia decided it was not good at small handheld devices (after killing it for decades) and sold its device business to Microsoft. This, at a time when Apple was creating continents of wealth in handhelds. Microsoft paid $7.2B for the (shitty) Nokia phone business. (Como se speaker problems with Lumias?) And now, Nokia with its big iron phone and internet switch business intact is looking to purchase Alcatel/Lucent. This is Nokia’s raising its hand in favor of cloud vs. devices.

It wasn’t that long ago when computers were big. Phones got smaller. Comms devices of every stripe shrunk into wearables. And now chips, screens, software and apps are getting so good and “thin” that funationality and decisions are moving into the network (cloud) and in our future “tons” of devices will move into the landfill. Literally.

The Apple Watch people are breathing this stuff daily. I’ll bet Apple’s very best engineers are deployed against all this miniaturization. And all that intelligence has to move somewhere. Apple might be smart to start thinking about the switch (software) business too. That’s my bet.

Ain’t this fun? Peace.


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I write often about “beyond the dashboard” planning and cite Steve Jobs as a main practitioner. Mr. Jobs asked not what consumers wanted, instead he gave them what he knew they would want…after he built it.  This approach is all well and good until it’s your job to start thinking about what people would want and you have to come up with the products. It’s easy talking about the future, much tougher predicting it. Just look at the sports betting business.

Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook may have just taken a page out of Steve’s book this week. In fact, he may have trumped him. Though the Apple Watch (Anyone notice the lack of i?) may not be the design breakthrough we were all expecting, the healthcare applications it promises are going to be market-changing. And if that was not enough, the new iPhone 6’s Apple Pay may be such an innovation that global banking, currency and commerce platforms will change forever. (Does anyone remember standing in long lines at Blockbuster for movie rentals 10 years ago?)

When you do innovation planning you start with pent up demand. Who, I ask, does not care about money and health? Hourly. This is not just another week at the office for Apple. This, as the kids say, is some shit!

I’m not saying the Apple Watch health apps and Apple Pay will hit on all cylinders, but this week and these “ideas to have ideas” will long be remembered. A little coming out party for Tim Cook, me thinks. Peace.


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I’ve said before that “a brand is an empty vessel into which we pour meaning,” but that isn’t exactly correct. If a product, the brand is not an empty vessel, it’s a thing – a thing to which we “attach meaning.” A bottle of water is a bottle of water. We expect it to be clear, tasteless, and priced reasonably. It bring meaning that marketers must work with when branding. The same can be said, somewhat, for a service. Though not a thing, it does come with prepackaged meaning: a lawyer provides legal service, physicians healthcare, etc.  Services can be branded but present a slightly different challenge.

My approach to brand development for both is the same. I work to understand at what ta product or service is great and what consumers want most.  This is the area in which I live as a brand planner. As a beyond the dashboard planner I may think delve into what the customer doesn’t know s/he needs (but will need)…and dial that up a bit.

Where a service differs from a product is often in process. For a healthcare system a brand plank might be about “sharing.” For a website, maybe “community.”  Services, though they may not have a visual or taste appeal, can open up exciting new ground based on the simple fact that employees who deliver the service, who affect the experience, become part of the strategy. Done well, with a tight plan, that can be very meaningful. And very appealing.

Product brands live in your hand and your mind. Service brands only in the mind. But that’s a powerful place to be. Peace.



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Thanks to its car ignition problems, General Motors is recalling 29 million automobiles worldwide. If you’ve ever scanned the price of an auto repair you know the labor is what gets you, not the parts – so you can imagine how that number is going to hit the GM bottom line. Like a 29 million pound tank. GM’s most profitable cars are its huge SUVs. It is reported that a $60,000 Suburban provides $10k in profit while an energy efficient Chevy Cruz yields $1,500 in profit. We all know which car is better for mother earth, but GM, which has the power to move the market away from gas guzzling, likely won’t.  Too much to lose. GM’s share of the SUV market is now up to 70%. (Seen a picture of the smog in China lately?)

Ford’s new aluminum body F-150 pick-up truck is a step in the right direction. SUV loving Chrysler/Dodge/Fiat is bracketing its large car and truck sales with some much better looking Fiat 500s…very cool and efficient cars of the future. My Prius has over 165,000 miles on it, saving me about $9,000 in gas and cutting pounds of carbon into the atmosphere.

Here’s the point. GM, which is about as American and Apple you know what, continues to lose its way. The corporation needs a strategy and a leader. A leader with beyond the dashboard vision. The old gray mare is not too big to fail. Not anymore. American’s love our metal, but we love our amber waves of grain better. Peace.



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CBS and Google.

A little over 4 years ago I predicted Google would break up into 3 different companies.  It would happen in about 48 months, the non-prescient post suggested. I was wrong. The post had over a 1,000 hits, partly because of a point I made about Google’s culture of technological obesity, a tidbit picked up by Steve Rubel and Life Hacker. Who knew?

Today CBS, a proclaimed content company, has made public its plans to spin off and IPO its outdoor business. A $3.3B advertising and real estate venture, it is deemed non-core. CBS is rolling financially, owning an amazing share of prime time TV viewership as well as a successful film business, a cable channel and online properties. CBS is making the move during a period of earnings strength. It’s still about portfolio focus.  

My Google trivestiture prediction was also about focus. But without any government pressure, Google has decided that a diverse portfolio, kept buoyant by mad ad revenue, is the best way forward.  Google can afford to pizzle away money on Motorola, and self-driving cars and, and, and.  Google is taking the GE approach, becoming a diversified technology company. And I’m liking it.

CBS gets what it is good at — content. Its diversity comes from flavors of content: prime time, movies, cable and online. Google is good at putting the world’s information at our finger tips… yet it is looking beyond the dashboard toward what’s next.  And as long as Google can turn a profit, it’s a brilliant approach. (That’s why Facebook bought Oculus Rift.  It’s non-core, but it is about the future.)

For businesses, focus gets you smarter and better. Diversity gets you smarter and better. No wrong, until the shareholders start to wince. Peace. 

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