Brand ideas

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I make paper for a living.  People pay big paper (money) for my paper, brand strategies.  Brand strategy is what my mentor Peter Kim would call a “selling idea,” an idea that predisposes consumers to a product or service, e.g., “the world’s information in one click” (Google), “refreshment” (Coca-Cola), “for doers not browsers” (ZDNet). 

To get to the idea one has to process a lot of information, typically presented on paper in the form of a brief. Briefs are my output to clients. But they are buying an idea. That’s the honeypot.    

I attribute my ability to craft good briefs to the proper creation and use of epigrams.



plural noun: epigrams

  1. a pithy saying or remark expressing an idea in a clever and amusing way.
synonyms: witticism, quip, jest, pun, bon mot; More

saying, maxim, adage, aphorism, apophthegm;

informalone-liner, wisecrack, (old) chestnut

“a collection of humorous epigrams from old gravestones”

o   a short poem, especially a satirical one, having a witty or ingenious ending.

My briefs are filled with them. Hidden in a narrative, serial story. Clients find meaning and inspiration in my epigrams. They are word plays about them, about their products. They are memorable. It’s how I sell the idea. It’s how I come up with the idea.

The secret sauce. Epigrams.




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Brand Ideas and Words.

Words are to strategy what notes are to music. A great piece of music lays a set of notes into a unique order that can make a song bird take notice. Words by Dickens are constructed differently than those by Dennis Lehane. The words used in a powerful strategy idea (the claim) are powerful and rich but are just words. Does the word “polydimensional” mean the same thing as “multi-channel” or “multifaceted”? Probably. But as part of a brand strategy claim it can take on added ballast.

Poly suggests science and medicine. Also academia. Dimensional suggests 3-D. Linear but vast. As someone once said about brands “they are empty vessels into which we pour meaning.” But a good word can help guide and organize meaning.

Choose your words very carefully. Be sure the context is rich, but do not fall into category babble or nomenclature. It’s okay to use some counterintuitive or incongruous words, so long as human context makes sense. Never confuse. Be artful and find words pregnant with meaning. Malleable meaning that create value for your brand. And, as in music, it doesn’t hurt to offer a bit of poesy or a lyrical feel.



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In branding, the strategic idea (or claim) is the bank. The ads, promotions, events and deeds of marketing are the deposits. The bolder the claim the better the branding. The weaker the claim the limper. When Orson Munn and Peter Rabot created the tagline “Amazing Things Are Happening Here,” for NewYork-Presbyterian, they went bold. Really bold. If the litmus for every ad was “amazing things” then they had their work cut out for them. When they learned Deathstalker Scorpion venom aided in treating brain cancer, they made an ad. When a child with rampant abdominal cancer had all of her organ’s removed so she could be treated and live to tell about it on a TV commercial, she amazed the country…on the Super Bowl.

It’s hard to be amazing every day, yet Messrs. Munn and Rabot built a brand doing so, making way more deposits than withdrawals. Munn Rabot no longer works with with NewYork-Presbyterian and it shows. NewYork-Presbyterian knows they own a great idea and kept the tagline but to the new regime, amazing means buying a new hospital (Lawrence Hospital) and investing in new equipment.NYPres ad (Click on ad from today’s NYT.) I’m sure there are lots of amazing things happening at Lawrence Hospital that could have been brought to light with a little digging. That’s branding trade craft. Unfortunately, that was lacking.

Ideas need heroes. Ideas need management. Alas.



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We love symmetry in our lives. We love it on our design. In our music. Symmetry is balance. Order. Brand planners like order and symmetry yet they also know a strategy must not be replicable. It must be unique. Others can lay claim to the “refreshment” strategy, but when Coca-Cola says it, it has unique meaning. Why? Because nothing refreshes like a Coca-Cola. It’s doesn’t own the word, it owns the idea. That’s due to the coca bean and a special highly guarded recipe. 

Many brand ideas are replicable as are many products (there just aren’t that many Coke’s out there), so the notion of creating an organizing principles in the form of “one idea supported by 3 brand planks” allows for that differentiation. It also allows a brand flexibility and the ability to cover new ground. Sameness is not symmetry. Geico is beginning to realize that. 

Campaigns come and go, a powerful branding idea is indelible. And supported by symmetry and smart brand planks, a brand plan can last many lifetimes. Peace.

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I’m all about the deeds.  In marketing, promises are like air. Deeds on the other hand are few and far between. Okay, bringing coffees to a sale call is a deed. So is lunch.  But they are not brand-meaningful deeds. For a great reference on meaningful marketing check out Bob Gilbreath’s bookThe Next Evolution of MarketingDeeds are about putting your money where your mouth is.  About delivering proof that you care. Words are important. Deeds are marketing currency.  Deeds make one believe the words.

The first print ads were no doubt all type.  Words. Then came the ability to reproduce pictures in ads so marketers could pair products and usage with the words. Advertising now is in end-benefit land.  Yet it still feels like “me” advertising not “you” advertising. When we market through deeds rather than promises we connect.  We create muscle memory for our brand ideas.

One good deed can support months and months of promises. And I meaningful it.  Hee hee. Peace!


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Find or Form

In brand planning there are typically two approaches.  Find  the brand Idea, which is a bit like a truffle hunt or form the brand idea, more akin to gestation. They are both fun and both hard. 

Find usually takes the planner through the grasses and woodlands of the brand’s past. Readers know I’m not a rearview mirror planner, but the past contains many clues. Hard and soft.  It helps to know where you’ve trod in order to know where you are going. But going forward you are. Understand the product, people, place, price and promotion fore and aft – and those of competitors — and you should be able to locate a brand idea that suits your business strategy.

Form focuses on new products and services; those that have never seen the light of day. Form brand ideas require mad context.  Who, with what, and where will this new product be competing?  If in a completely a new category, what person, place or thing will this new product replace?  A rich new rich jungle tea might, for instance, compete with coffee not other teas.

And remember be it find or form, your idea needs organized support planks — planks that prove the idea.  Lastly, do not confuse a brand idea with a campaign.  As we all know, campaigns come and go. Peace!

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