Brand Strategy

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Benefits Bingo

How can you tell when a B2B company doesn’t have a brand strategy?  When it plays Benefits Bingo on the home page. 

I’ve been after a prospect in the insurance space for years. I did some amazing brand strategy work with a company contact a while back and she gets how brand strategy can focus a company, internally and externally, for success.  She’s not the problem. Her management team is. When last we spoke she told me they had decided to go with another company for a brand exploratory. Someone familiar to a person in the C-suite.

I visited the website today and was greeted by a battery of words dropped out of pastel boxes: Innovation, Agility, Expertise and Engagement. Also on the home page, pictures of a women, a man, a downhill skier and hands on a tug-of-war rope. Got it?

Do you know how many B2B companies use Benefits Bingo on their home page? Thirty to thirty five percent would be my guess. Como se lazy? Como se doltish?

Can you imagine your best sales person out on a new client call checking in with the receptionist, asking to meet the buyer by saying “Tell them the innovation, agility, expertise and engagement” salesman is here.”


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For most small businesses the name is the brand. I suspect, that is why small businesses remain small. For mid-size businesses, the name is also the brand, but there tends to be a need for more marketing and sales support; there is stationery, a website, boiler plate copy for press releases, a need to explain company ethos to new hires. In other words, the need for branding elements.  Whoever creates the elements is the de facto brand manager. When it falls to the CEO, it is probably on target strategically, but inelegant.  In a mid-size company, if there is a marketing person, the branding elements have a chance. 

Large companies have marketing people and marketing departments. They are awash in branding elements.  Smart large company marketing departments have brand strategies. Most do not. A brand strategy is “an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  Every company can benefit from a brand strategy. From a one-woman shop to a billion-dollar healthcare system.

Beautiful things can come from disorganization – from random assemblages. But not brands. Not brands.



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I love this quote I wrote a few years back for a presentation to Gentiva Health Services, now owned by Kindred Healthcare: “Campaigns come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.”  It’s so true.

Ad campaigns get tired. Were I to guess, I’d venture the length of an average ad campaign is 2.5 years.  Why is that? Brand managers and agency creators get tired of it. They burn out. Also on the agency side, there’s a little “not invented here” syndrome. 

Campaigns are an expression of the brand brief – at least they are supposed to be. Smart marketers who change the ad campaign stick to  the brand brief; they just sing it in a different color.  But not all marketers follow this logic. For many, when the campaign changes the brand brief changes. And the brand becomes a moving target. Agencies love to change the brief, and unseasoned client marketers let them. The result is the dissipation of muscle memory around the brand claim. And everyone must start anew. Market share flails. First positively, then negatively. And in 2.5 years, it’s time for a new campaign.

My best brand strategies last decades. Ad agencies come and go, marketing directors come and go, the brand strategy remains.  Indelible.




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I Like Myopia.

I’ve read a number of pieces by brand planners who advocate “question everything.”  Look at a problem, then look at it from many other directions. Point-counterpoint. Question everything was driven home to me early in  my career with McCann using AT&T’s heavy-handed reliance on consumer research and message testing. It was healthy to listen to consumers share likes, dislikes, preferences and attitudes.  I grew as a result.

But today my brand planning rigor is more fluid. I do not stop and question myself. I don’t look at the obverse. It’s a buzz kill. It kills the poetry. As a rapper might say if I’m in the “flow” I don’t want to break it. So on I go.

Clients are the ones I rely on to question my brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks). I like to think, after all my deep digging, marinating, cogitating and “boil down,” that all sides have been considered. And it’s time for flow.

If this approach seems myopic, so be it. But a good brand idea, a big brand idea, is usually rooted in flow, not the result of over analysis.


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It’s hard for me but don’t want to get into politics when I talk about Meredith Corporation, the venerable magazine publisher – so I will leave the Koch Brother’s backing of Meredith’s purchase of Time Inc for another day. I will however dig into a bit of the Meredith brand. Magazines are dead the way TV was dead 10 years ago.  Yeah, the model may change, the revenue redistributed, but magazines, written by smart people, supported by wonderful pictures are not going away.

Meredith Corporation, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa is and ever-shall-be a heartland company. America needs more and more of these companies. Even some in Silicon Valley, tired of the sturm und drang, are looking to moving inland a skosh. What I like about Meredith is they know who they are. Check out the picture of the trowel in front of headquarters.  The artist who designed this amazing, simple piece of art interpreted the company better than 100 brand strategists.

As a branding element, this trowel is genius. It’s size, color, placement on the property – reminds employees and visitors every day what’s up at Meredith. Get your fingers dirty, get on your knees and close to the problem, start small to grow big. I love it.

This is a wonderful example of art bringing paper to life.   I make paper strategy and I am so envious of those who build the stuff that gives it birth.




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I read something smart in an account planners group on Facebook yesterday about targeting. It suggested you have to refine the brand target so as to make a more compelling message. When creating your brand claim, you don’t want to address the entire consuming pop. Not everyone will like you. You have to find the largest grouping of people who share a proclivity for your product, service and brand claim — and focus the strategy on them. 

It’s so smart.  I had the same targeting discussion with a client yesterday.

When you do enough research on brand good-ats and consumer care-abouts, you’ll find that you can’t please everybody. It is at this point that the rubber meets the road. Do we change who we are? Do we try to change the attitudes and beliefs of what consumers think and know? Or do we simply speak to the low and “reach for” fruit that will most likely be motivated to buy our product?

This is how we do-oo it!  Peace.


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I’ve been reading a lot about Artificial Intelligence, self-driving cars and trucks, brick layers whose jobs are in jeopardy because of robots….and that’s just in today’s paper. As a brand planner I have to admit it makes me a bit giddy to think about what the art of branding will be like when things are more automated.  I suspect there will be more compliance. The biggest hurdle to compliance when it comes to following brand strategy is, ta-dah, the people. The creative brain. The need to problem solve in one’s own unique way.

Coloring outside the lines in brand strategy doesn’t work. Its s slippery slope. Brand managers get sidetracked. They see something shiny and skirt away from the claim and proof array that is their brand’s organizing principle.  SEO and Adwords might go off on a tangent that spikes sales. A new TV campaign might hit the front page of Vice. Little marketing tickles that cause a brand to veer.

Machines won’t let that happen. They are relentless. Machine learning is focused…and relentless.

Kind of stoked. Peace.


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There is a fearless Federal judge in Ohio taking on all participants who earn money as a result of the current U.S. opioid crisis. His name is Dan Alan Polster and his strategy is to get a group settlement and correction of the law fast. Nothing is fast in law; it’s how people get paid — so this is refreshing.   Rather than have the opioid crisis drag out in courts, Judge Polster is hoping to make big progress in days. In fact, today might be the tipping point.

One tenet of Judge Polster’s approach is captured in his quote from today’s New York Times: “It’s almost never productive to get the other side angry. They lash out and hurt you and themselves. I try to get the sides to think it through as a problem to solve, not a fight to be won or lost.”

Brand strategy, done well, is never angry. But I must admit to having written some that are combative. A mentor once asked: “Who is going to lose the sale you are trying to win.”  It’s a  question every planner and marketer must ask.  Yet the idea to replace anger with problem solving is genius — in adjudication and brand strategy.  

Marketing is where acts of war may happen, branding is a higher road pursuit.



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In a story from The New York Times this morning about the toll the chaotic Trump administration is having on senior staff, the reporter wrote “With an erratic boss and little in the way of a coherent legislative agenda, they are consumed by infighting, fears of their legal exposure and an ambient sense that the White House is spinning out of control.”

People, president and politics aside, let’s look at the central theme of the quote. No coherent legislative agenda.  Good governments require coherence in their agendas.  So do brands. When a brand has a coherent agenda, marketing and business become easier. Chaos in not an organizing principle.  Brands without coherence are brands without growing customer bases.  (Imagine if the product was inconsistent. Imagine if the logo changed monthly. Imagine if retail was spotty.  Incoherence.)

No matter the company or category, articulating a brand strategy (one claim, three brand planks) is critical to coherence. Now, back to your regularly scheduled news program.



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Highland Brewing is “an original” craft brewery located in Asheville, NC – founded in 1995 by Oscar Wong.  When I moved to Asheville and having becomes a big fan of the Highland Gaelic Ale, I decided to contact president Leah Wong Ashburn for a quaff and chat about branding. Ms. Wong, I learned, was way ahead of me with a re-brand underway, using a shop in TX she had met at a beer tradeshow.  

I’ve seen a little bit of the work – the grand reveal is at the brewery this Friday – and the brand shop and Highland team seem to have hit on all cylinders.

Disclosure: I am a brand strategist who make paper, not pictures. I deliver an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging. As such, I’m always eager to hear the paper strategy. In the case of Highland the claim seems to be “Pioneers in Craft.” Nice. The phrase doesn’t say “craft beer,” it says “craft.” Love the nuance.  Craft extends way beyond beer making. So it opens more doors for the brand planks – the proof areas that deliver on the promise.

Not being privy to the Highland brand strategy, I’ll have to do some digging to uncover the brand planks. Can you say fatty liver JKJK.

One minor for me was the mark or logo. Using a compass and letter “H” lacked a little local mountain flourish. Logos are hard. This one is strong and professional… I’ll get used to it.

Bravo Highland. Good stuff. Can’t wait to see more.



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