brand management

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…was yesterday’s headline announcing someone new will be fill the costume of Big Bird on Sesame Street. The new talent will study Big Bird’s mannerisms, body language, physical quirks and more.  Going to game film, as it were.  I’m not sure if the voice will change but my guess is the new Big Bird will step in seamlessly and miss nary a beat.

Why, so seamless?

Because the Big Bird is, effectively, a brand; a brand that has been managed very, very well. Sure a package is a package — and that hasn’t changed in 50 years — but it’s what’s inside the package that counts. Goofy. Lumbering. Thoughtful. Concerned. Open and positive. These are all things associated with Big Bird. These are brand qualities, traits and expectation of Big Bird.   

The new actor who plays Big Bird has big shoes to fill (sorry). One misstep and it will be seen. But Mr. Spinney and the Sesame Street brand managers did such a brilliant job there will be no missteps.



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I’ve often heard advertising referred to as a mixture of art and science.  I agree. The thing about art is, well, it’s art.  You assume the artists is doing it because he or she wants to make a living but that may not always be the case.  I’ve worked with artists while brand planning on a web start-up and everyone I spoke to wanted to make money. They didn’t paint or sculpt, however, following a sales strategy.

The art that is part of advertising does have a sales strategy. Get attention, create interest and move product. The art may be pretty, mellifluous, poetic – if it doesn’t sell it isn’t likely to reappear.  

In branding, art and science are also important. The brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks) is the “selling structure” —  the science — and the selling tactics are the art.  Brand strategy is a vessel (structure) filled with art. And the art can change. Best practices suggest muscle memory is built with campaign-able ideas, yet the reality is as long as the art supports the strategy, the efforts are brand-positive.  That’s not to say all art is good art. So brand managers are paid to say “out with the bad, in with the good.”

Art and science are innately human traits. Those who get it right in marketing are the winners.




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Salesforce should buy Twitter but keep it as a standalone company. Attempting to integrate Twitter into the Salesforce fabric, though it would offer great excitement and return, would make messy both product services.  Life’s too short not to try something like this, Marc Benioff might be thinking, but he shouldn’t do it with an eye toward an integrated platform. The puzzle pieces just won’t fit. Not organically.

Mr. Benioff should buy the company. And allow it to resurrect itself with fresh cash, time and vision. But that vision isn’t the same that has fueled Salesforce.

If you are managing a brand well, you are managing a business well. Brand management is all about staying within the lines of a business winning organizing principle. Adhere and innovate, but stay between the lines. When you merge two companies like Salesforce and Twitter, you’re evolving and adding new lines to that organizing principle. It like adding new genes to the pool. Especially for companies as large and successful as these two. Buy, lift and separate.

Peanut butter and ham do not a great sandwich make.




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Can brands get stale? B-school professors will tell you companies go through maturation stages: growth, mature, harvest. Investment spending is heaviest during the growth period while milking profits and low investment occurs in the harvest period. Mature is the middle period where all the hard decisions are made. Mature is where real money happens and success is fickle. This is the period where brands can get stale.

(First off, let me acknowledge that brands aren’t companies and companies aren’t brands. Though sometimes they are. IBM is a company and also a brand. P&G is a company but not a brand. It’s complicated.) For this discussion let’s just say B2B companies are brands.

I’m a big proponent of a brand strategy: Once claim and three proof planks. This framework provides an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. It works for tooth whitener, wholesale fish purveyors and billion dollar healthcare systems. Unlike a tagline, graphics style manual and ad campaign (the drivers of most brands), a brand strategy allows for freshness and flexibility. And it works in all the life stages of a brand. A brand strategy provides business winning strategy directives. It fights staleness when in the hands of smart brand managers.

Brands can get stale. Business executives become most sensitive to it when sales are down. When the campaign becomes too familiar. If business fundies are without flaw, e.g., headcount, distribution, pricing, then I always suggest getting the brand strategy right. It’s how businesses and brands flourish. Peace.


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Apple has been on the front page of many metropolitan newspapers over the last couple of years.  The FoxConn story on manufacturing in China under un-American circumstances, the hard looks at Steve Jobs during publication of his biography and passing and now its tax avoidance.  It’s almost as if some in the media have an axe to grind with this darling of American commerce and technology.  Overdogs often are targeted. Yet with all this bad press, most consumers still love Apple.


Microsoft used to be the overdog and all consumers used their products — but most skewered them. Many techies loved to kill them on message boards, in offices and around the digital coolers.  The only Microsoft advocates worked at Microsoft.

So how why does Apple get stink on itself and still maintain the love? Products. And proper brand management. Much of the latter is due to Lee Clow, TBWA/Chiat Day, Steve Jobs himself and the marketing Kool-Aid drinkers.  The Apple ads are fun, funny, sometimes biting, colorful and artful.  And clean like the products.

I’m hard-pressed to see how the latest tax image problem will be resolved by Apple, but I’m sure it will be. Samsung, Microsoft, HTC and Google Glass will fight Apple for share of wallet. But when it comes to the “love,” they will need to create and manage their brands with grace, insight and focus if they are to beat the overdog syndrome. (Google and it’s agency BBH have a clue. Eye on them.) Peace.

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This is my last post of 2011.  Are you ready?  It’s a short one.

No one loves consumers more than I. I study them, they are my living. But consumers don’t know scheiße (German, pronounced shy-zah) about managing brands; let’s stop pretending they do. May peace be upon you.

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The NY Mets are my team.  When a young ‘un in NYC with no money and nothing to do, I’d sit in my studio apartment listening to the Mets and keep the box score on yellow lined paper purloined from work.  I attended the first ever Word Series Game at Shea stadium (Thanks, dad.) and got my first business lesson when Tom Seaver was traded – he looked awful in red, by the way.

Marketers these days are all “We don’t own the brand, consumers own the brand” and I couldn’t disagree more.  It is the mission of marketers to organize and direct the conversation around their products.  Sadly, New York Mets fans want to talk about one thing: team payroll.  Then about Bernie Madoff and Jose Reyes.  And Mets management is letting them. The conversation is dominated by money. When Sandy Alderson took the bait the other day in response to why the Mets had not resigned Jose Reyes huffing “We lost $70 million last year,” he was not managing the Mets message.

Every minute, every hour there is something baseball-like to talk about for the Mets. There are roster and farm team heroes to bring to life. The Mets fans who love the brand – not those people who stand on the Shake Shack line for 55 minutes – need organized reasons to continue to love the Mets and they aren’t getting them. There is no organizing principle for the Mets brand that lays the groundwork for the marketing, hence the conversation defaults to money. Here’s my suggestion for Fred, Saul and Jeff: Embargo any talk about money by marketing, management and players. And talk only about the game.  That would be a start. Peace.  

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Freehand is defined thusly:


1. drawn or executed by hand without guiding instruments, measurements, or other aids: a freehand map.


2. in a freehand manner: to draw freehand.

When CMOs, senior marketers and their agencies say “consumers own brands,” it makes for good copy but bad management. Consumers buy products, weighing in with their pocketbooks as to taste, preference and price requirements, but they do not own the brands.  Ad, direct and digital agencies have known this for years.  It is what creates the conflict between client and agency.  Clients want the work they want and agencies want the work they want.  Clients own the brands.

Freehand messaging is what happens when you turn your brand over to consumers to manage.  The conversation, then, can take any course it wants. Good, bad, indifferent. If I am working my ass off managing a craft cookie brand, around attributes of “naturally moist,” “healthier ingredients” and “complex flavors” — on a shoestring budget — I want to make sure people are talking about those things…the things that sell my cookies. Not cookie ephemera. When the consumer discussion is not guided by brand managers and agencies, the discussion is freehand. And marketers are not doing their job. Every dollar spent by a marketer needs to result in a deposit in the brand bank. Withdrawals are the Antichrist. Stop the freehand by managing it! Peace.

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Have you ever noticed that law firm earnings rarely make the papers?  Or that gazillion dollar law firm names are unknown by the masses? We really never think about big corporate law firms. As Occupy Wall Street targets the banks and focuses on corporations that do not pay their fair share taxes, lawyers walk back and forth with nary a glance. 

A friend of mine is in operations at a law firm in NYC and very involved in build-outs and office relocations. His firm is in a semi-historic NYC building and they are renovating like a dookie. Conference rooms like museums, two-story, south-facing offices that would make a king blush.  Corporate and high-end law firms are the subject of good TV drama, but fly under the radar because they are private and in the business of stealth and secreting information. They are also in the business of reverse brand management.

Staying out of the public’s eye and keeping clients invisible is an art — and lawyers do it best.  Perhaps some large communications companies who build reputations for a living should hire and study top law partners to understand the enemy.  The enemy being the opposite of promotion. Perhaps then we can invent a few new ways to sell.  Peace.

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What do Jim Beam, Moen Faucets, Master Locks and Titleist golf balls have in common?  The letter “e?”  No.  They are all owned by Fortune Brands, a public company with $6.5 billion in annual sales.  It was announced yesterday that Fortune Brands will be split into 3 companies: House and Hardware will be one public (stock) entity, Spirits will be a new company (private), with Maker’s Mark, Canadian Club, Courvoisier and Laphroaig in its liquor cabinet, and Titleist the smallest revenue producer, which will likely be sold.

These are all very nice brands. Consumers know these products and have seen all supported by strong brand management over the years.

Pershing Square Capital Management recent took ownership of 10.9% of Fortune stock and, in the driver’s seat, has decided to enforce the trivestiture. Normally this type of thing is seen as raiding and is all about making a quick buck, but the value of these brands makes me think this is not going to be such a bad thing.  Each of the three entities will have greater product and consumer segment focus.  Management will be able to tighten up its obs and strats, with consumers not feeling a thing.  A history of strong brand management is the legacy of the current Fortune board and its forbearers. All brands should do well and be revived.  Peace!

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