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NYC painter Jean-Michel Basquiat once told a friend as they walked home from a gallery one night “I’ll learn to draw later, first I want to get famous.”  Sounds awfully backwards, unless you were a child of the 70-80s in NYC where punk rock and musicians were inventing a new scene.   Lots of people had established personal brands through dress, hang-outs, hair and behavior while working on their art. For instance, on any given night if you saw a black Schwinn with a leather jacket chained to it in front of a rock club (in the winter), I was inside. (Lines for the coat check at 3-4 in the morning were way too long.)   

While these artists-in-waiting fiddled with guitars, paint or prose during the day, between shifts as a waiters or bike messengers, they were focused brand builders. They had a vision, a sense of the time and an organizing principle.

Think if them as startups. I’ve helped build startup brands before and they all tend to over-hang the market — meaning offer promise before availability. And if you think of it, most small companies without brand strategies are startups. Even if fairly established. They are businesses, not brands. No brand plans in place to establish behavioral identity.

It’s always better to be aware of brand while building your art or your business.  It focuses you.   



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I don’t mean to pick on HP or its advertising and marketing again. But I must.  The company is using arguably the world’s best advertising agency (BBDO) and can’t get out of its own way.  They can’t come up with a sustainable brand idea; an idea that marries what they do best with what customers want most. Today’s new idea, as seen in an ad in the NYT, revolves around the notion of “further faster.”  It is all claim, exposition and pedantic nothingness – not a single sign of proof in the copy. Do HP and Meg Whitman really think IT executives and Fortune 2000 leaders don’t know they have to be faster and more informed in their business decisions? OMG. If “further faster” is the idea — at least it is better than “make it matter,” their last strategic foray. You wouldn’t know it from this ad however.

HP has bigger fish to fry than a tagline and brand idea. They are splitting the company and losing small cities worth of money. That said, someone at the top in the marketing dept. should be trying much harder to deliver a clear, meaningful idea.

BBDO is great at selling consumer goods but perhaps doesn’t truly get B2B. (B team?) This whole mess is really hard to believe. If HP wants to get to the future faster, they had better learn a lot more about claim and proof…and find the organizing principle that helps make more money. Peace.



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Slopping claims.

I was listing to Jim Nance read an Insperity radio spot yesterday, something I’ve probably done 30 times this summer, and for the life of me I still don’t know what Insperity does. I really made an effort to listen yesterday and think they may provide business services, whatever that means. HR services. Maybe payroll, financial, but not really sure.

Recently, I sent an RFP out to a company with the word “benefits” in its name. Their positioning and brand problem was that they weren’t just a benefits company, they were also financial planners. Another company having a difficult time explaining what they did for a living. (Explaining their Is-Does.)  

Insperity’s tagline (I just twitched over to their website) is “Inspiring Business Performance.” That didn’t help. But more importantly, in the radio spot Insperity used the 4 worst words in all of advertising.  The most over-used words in copywriting. Four words that almost always identify a bad ad: “…and much, much more.”

The problem with these words is they are typically used after a long recitation of claims. And when you are slopping claims around, your listeners or readers get lost. So find a claim and prove it. And prove it. Don’t encumber it with other claims. It gets messy. It’s bad for branding. It’s bad for advertising. Do it much, much less. Peace.

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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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Having worked in technology, marketing and branding for a while (a fairly unique combination) I have come to a conclusion about homepages. The best home pages are a lot like product labels. They sell at the point of contact. The worst ones are like tables of contents. They help visitors navigate through cluttered over-complicated environments. Environments where every dept. in the company gets a piece.

My new thing is the landing story. It’s strategic and it is a serial presentation of product, benefits, reasons to believe and value. It is told by brand managers and people with creative chops whose main goal is to sell. Not provide information. The more mature a product and, therefore, the more familiar consumers are with it, the easier it should be to tell the landing story. Coke doesn’t have to educate new visitors as to what a cola is. They just have to get them to buy or buy more. There are real correlations between engagement levels on a website and purchase, no doubt; but getting someone into the library and getting them to read a book isn’t one and the same. So engagement for engagement’s sake is not the way to do it. 

The home page, in my opinion, is one of the most misunderstood and misused marketing tools in the digital arsenal. Let’s try to fix this. Let’s bring home pages to life. Let’s storify them. Peace. 

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I joke around that I make paper for a living. Paper strategies. To the creative people fall the exciting deliverables: the TV spots, magazine ads, websites and iPhone apps. Me? I just make the idea starters and the idea guard rails.

Good strategists, with their briefs, provide thought-provoking stim, context, and imagery to help the makers and doers create motivating selling schema. The paper containing said stim is two dimensional. Brand planners are great at bringing those two dimensions to life, yet there are still only two.  I came across a new file format today called .STL.  It stands for stereolithography or Standard Tessellation Language. It’s a format for 3D printing and one which, no doubt, we will be seeing a lot more of in the future.

This new format is one brand planners should use as inspiration. A format with an additional axis. I dimensionalize my paper strategies with a little playacting, voices, miming — anything to help the creative process along — but at the end of the day the paper is the paper and it sits on a desk or inside a Mac. We need a new format. Any idea?



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Yesterday I watched an interview with Mike Maples, Jr. on Pando. I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Maples but am a big fan of one of his investments Chegg, run by Dan Rosensweig. Talk about content marketing? Pando CEO/Interviewer Sarah Lacy understands content marketing. This is no content factory stuff — filled with blather, key words and juvie likeability — it’s an interview with a person who not only wants to redistribute marketing wealth, he wants to grow the whole pie. Rather than watching The Voice or a cop show tonight, click up this bad boy.

In one segment, Mr.Maples tommy guns why his competitor Sequoia Capital is so great.

“They are killer. Their talent, focus, intensity, their ability to do generational transfer, their aggressiveness, their hustle, intelligence, organizational wisdom and knowledge, and the institutional frameworks that they have…”

This stuff wasn’t from notes. He is crushing big time on Sequoia, but knows exactly what it takes to win. These qualities are success drivers at all companies, not just start-ups. The former traits are personnel/employee related; the latter are company culture and strategy based. Wisdom and knowledge are about learning and sharing – they are not static. Frameworks are about replicable processes and optimized outcomes.

My boil down on branding is about claim and proof. Mr. Maples’ boil down on success is about talent and strategy. Learn from this dude. Peace.


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The Altimeter Group just rebranded according to Charlene Li, CEO. I’ve never met Ms. Li, but did do an analysts briefing with her (while she was in China) during my Zude start-up days. Influential doesn’t even begin to describe Ms. Li’s role in the technology business. She’s the Ester Dyson of the new millennium. That said, Ms. Li has fallen into the trap many have when referring to branding, or in this case, rebranding. Brands are not style and make-up. Not logo design and color. Brands are organizing principles anchored to an idea. A customer facing idea.

The Altimeter Group has altered its logo, PPT, newsletter format and, soon, will redesign its web site — but I’m not feeling a brand idea or brand strategy.  Disruption, social leadership and change are three words to describe the sandbox Altimeter plays in. And as for the Is of the Is-Does, they are definitely analysts. But I’m not seeing a strategy.

Ms. Li and team have been leaders in sharing information on social business strategies. And it is thought provoking, smart, transformative work. However, treating branding with color and design and not a strategy component is like saying social business redesign can take place by adding some Twitter, content managers, Yammer and a video production studio.

Hey Altimeter, What’s the Idea?  


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Google Brand.

Ya gotta love Google.  These guys get branding.  (That’s why they use BBH for advertising, projects and counsel.) I’ve been blogging about the Google brand strategy — first articulated by Sergei Brin — for years.  Their clam is “The world’s information in one click.”  Today, even Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside (Moto is a Google subsidiary), was singing off the same hymn sheet.  Said Mr. Woodside in the NYT “Google’s mission is to organize all the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”   He continued “For Motorola, one of the things we’re trying to do is create a very high-quality mobile Internet experience over time for hundreds of millions of peoples.”  That’s a tight brand strategy. And scalable. Create a claim and productize the proof.

Granted, self-driving cars, one of Google’s pet projects, are not proof of the world’s information in one click.  But do they facilitate the claim? You can’t search while driving. Hee hee. Google has Labs (hey Ben Malbon) and dabbles in many things, so we can’t say for sure that it will make money the same way 100 years out, but for now they understand strategy, what people want, and what they are good at.

One thought though…right now Google searches for websites. That’s where searches resolve. But some of the cooler things these days shooting over the web are not websites — they are apps, messages, pics and vids. That’s something worth thinking about. Peace.  

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An ex-CFO colleague of mine just joined a web startup called Lulu. It’s a mobile app for girls and, smartly, anyone who wants to be.  Check out the video to see what it’s all about. It’s kind of sexually charged and hook-up focused.  

I often write about the branding Is-Does — what a brand is and what a brand does. The ability for start-ups to articulate the Is-Does is often a deal breaker – especially for VCs. You may be a great technologist but if your packaging and marketing acumen are lacking, it’s hard to get traction.

The reason videos are so prevalent in web marketing today is they’re a good way to stuff 10 lbs. of shizz in a 5 lb. bag. Back in the day, the montage was the art form of choice: We do this, this, this and this.

It’s a rarity that a tagline can capture the Is-Does in one line. “The power of girl talk” is just that line. (If not Lulu’s tag, it should be.) So good job on the app and the Is-Does Lulu!

One of my joke lines as a kid was that I always wanted to experience real girl talk. I said, as a kid. Girl talk is a thing.  And Lulu, it’s developers and biz people get it.

Lulu is going to be big.  Peace!  

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