brand strategy framework

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Why Brand Strategy?

The brandstrategy framework used at What’s The Idea? is not an impenetrable membrane.  That is to say, it is not a wall that keeps out creative ideas and marketing executions. Sure, there may be some brand policing by brand manager, but brand strategy is not meant to create “the land of no.”  Think of brand strategy as a springboard for creative ideas. A place to start.

The What’s The Idea? framework comprises one claim and three proof planks.  A claim is a statement of value to a consumer; something they want. The stronger the want or need, the better the claim. As for the proof planks, they are exactly that. Proofs of claim. Proof planks are the foundation of brand stories. They create muscle memory for consumers as to why the claim is true.

The claim and proof array open the doors to creative thought, it doesn’t  close it. This is not untamed creative thought or “creative for creative’s sake,” but ideation based upon an organized selling strategy that builds brands.

Brand strategy organizes the creative mind.




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In a nutshell, my framework for brand strategy can be described as “one claims and three proof planks.”  What’s a proof plank?  It’s a series of like-minded examples or proofs. Tangible, intelligible evidence. If I make a claim I am strong, proof of that claim is me picking up 300 pounds.  When a restaurant says the food tastes good, you trot out the James Beard Award of its chef. A proof plank is tied inexorably to the brand claim and contains a list of proofs.

This is where most brand building falls down. Lack of proof.

Many brand nerds will tell you that brand success lies in understanding and promoting brand “Values” and/or “Attributes.”  Values and attributes are the false Gods of branding.  They sound good in meetings. Present well in analytics presentations. They are even measurable for infatuated data heads.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve build brands by doting on research report attributes. But the fastest way to positive attribute movement is through proof. The advertising business is infected with copy that is insubstantial. Copy filled with sing-songy value blather. Filled with empty adjectives.

Stick to proof, find your claim and proof array, and then you will have a real marketing job.



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Fred Wilson is a blogger ( and businessman I admire greatly. He blogs daily and share his knowledge without second thought.  He’s probably the most prominent VC on the east coast if not the county.  In a recent speech given at MIT, he mentioned that on his first ever test there he had gotten a zero.  About MIT he said, and I paraphrase, “When you go to MIT to go from being the smartest kid at your school to being the dumbest.” Anyway when asked about his nil test score his professor the response was “You didn’t understand the question.”

Here’s the thing about brand planning. The ones who get it right aren’t the ones with the best methodology or framework. They are the ones who understand the question. The problem is that question always changes. Yesterday I posted brand strategy is not Chaos Theory.  But if the question changes for every brand strategy, isn’t that a bit chaotic?

A generic question for all brands might be “What value or behavior does the brand provide that best meets the needs of the customer?”  Doesn’t seem like a bad question. But, per Fred Wilson’s professor, it’s the wrong one. Only when you are waist deep in a brand, customer care-abouts and brand good-ats can one ask the real question. It will be a business question, tempered by consumer insight, and help you pass that first and last test.

Happy hunting!


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I once gave a creative brief template to an account manager who took it to a meeting at Adelphi University where he sat with the marketing lead and, together, tried to fill it out. In the midst of the meeting they called me to clarify one of the points – probably brand essence or core desire or some such.  I was flabbergasted.  Fruitcake. Not him, me; for not explaining the briefing process well enough.

A brief is a framework to get to an idea. I’ve lived with mine for years and it’s not too much different than it was when purloined from Peter Kim and McCann Erickson in the 90s. It has a nice linearity to it and helps me down the road to a selling idea.  

There are often many sparks for the idea within the brief, but it is the planner who himself or herself understands which one is going to birth the idea. There is always one insight that just hits the brain like a freight train. 

Some planners eschew frameworks so they can be more fluid. That’s okay. If it works — to each his own. We gather, we learn, we think, formulate, test and finally decide.

Getting there is all the fun.




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popping the question

What’s The Idea? readers know my brand planning framework revolves around the mining of proof.  Proof of actions, deeds and results. But how does one mine for proof?  Google might use the algo. Me? I ask questions. Done well, questions are the lubricant that bring forth critical values.

I’d be fibbing if I told you the battery of questions I use is unique to each investigation. That said I’m constantly adding, subtracting and thinking of question to help in discovery. Following are two new questions worth sharing.

What about this product or service heroic? Heroes are what make great books and movies. It’s what kids aspire to. Saviors of the neighborhood. Heroes are what make countries, religions and cultures great. Heroes are passed down generationally. This question requires thought and may take some prodding. Best to ask it early in the interview so it can be thought about if not readily answerable.

What about this product or service will stand the test of evolution? Students of natural selection understand the scientific order that culls out bad traits and preserves good. Genes that improve an organism will, over time, outlast the destructive ones. This question is meant to find brand strengths through a new lens. A scientific lens.

I can’t wait to pop these questions. Always be learning. And evolving.



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“Deeds, not things, make father Berrigan one of the best-known Catholic priests of the 20th  century” is a line stolen from The New York Times today.  Deeds indeed.

At What’s The Idea? the framework for brand strategy (1 claim and 3 proof planks) is built upon deeds. And proof. They are the bedrock of a high-value selling proposition.

When I do discovery for a brand, I’m not searching for shallow platitudes or adjective-filled praise.  I need existential examples. When I ask hospital administrator why their healthcare is better than others, I’m often met with “It’s our level of care. Our people.”  That’s not input. That’s phonetic sounds and breath.  Hunting for proof and deeds, often through stories, is how we start the process. In a page of notes, you may only find 2 proof points. Read a web page or brochure someday. An ad even. Circle the proof.  Paltry.

When the same hospital says it does more cyber knife treatments in one year than any other NY hospital, that’s proof. But drill down. Find out why. Understand the proof and build upon it. The information is there.

Stories and storifying are big pop marketing topics today. I love stories…but as a listener. As a listener who’s looking for proof.




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The SWOT Analysis is an age-old business planning tool. Mapping out Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats sets businesses up to self-evaluate and make better decisions.  Google the words business, marketing or brand consultant and you will prob find 50% of the websites referring to SWOT.

garden of eden

Well, I am a brand planner. I don’t do SWOT.  I look primarily at positives. My brand strategy discovery gravitates towards “Good-ats” and “Care-abouts.”  Brand strategy is all about positivity. Aspiration. Likes. Sure, some of these overcome negatives but branding, at its very core, is about identification and positive reputation. So why, why spend time in negative land.

If I turned my framework on its head, I’d be asking about “bad-ats” and what consumers don’t “care about.” As a single shingle brand planner, one who needs to be nimble and cost=effective, I choose to live in always-always land. Where goodness lives and happens — and where brands are built to serve people in positive ways.

And I’m sticking to it. Peace.  



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I was presenting my strategy framework earlier this week and as part of my preso used examples of actual brand strategies (claim and proof planks). One of the claims presented ended up being a tagline for the company. When I shared this brand claim/tagline with the group a couple of people reacted by saying “That doesn’t sound so differentiated. That feels like other marketing claims.” And they were right.

The reality of brand claims and taglines is they just lie there unless you prove them. Every day. With the brand claim in question, the purchasing CEO and work team loved it because it reflected their key value like nothing they’d ever heard before. Plus it was aligned with a key customer care-about. The 3 proof planks supporting the claim were so business-winning, so strategic, that the claim/tagline struck them like a lightning bolt. They were willing to go to war based on this organizing principle. Were the three words below the logo people have never seen before? Nope. Were they poetic to the masses? Nope. But they struck a chord among the senior team. And motivated that team to new levels of marketing awareness.

We have become inured to marketing lyrics and taglines for tagline’s sake. When taglines are the craft of the ad agency they often fall short. When they come from a deep-dish brand strategy, they can last and last. Peace.



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