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I wrote a biz/dev letter to a nearby digital agency yesterday pitching them on what I hope to be an interesting digital media planning tool. I call it Twitch Point Planning. (Google it for an explanation.)  Mindful of being brief in my pitch, I chose my words carefully and toplined what Twitch Point Planning IS and what Twitch Point Planning DOES. My typical “Is-Does” frame for explain brands and new products.  

What I neglected to do, while mired in my need to explain the product, was tell the reader what benefit accrued to them. I suspected that by making clear the innovativeness of the product, the benefit would be implicit. Wrong. I didn’t think like a custie.

In a much less ham-handed way I should have opened my missive with a claim about “a new revenue stream” for todays digital economy or another reader-centric idea. Only then should I have explained the Is-Does. Rather than getting all caught up in my underwear, I should have planned my outfit.

Think like a custie and raise your odds of cutting through.




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Kylie Jenner’s makeup sold $420 million in 18 months with minimal advertising beyond her Instagram posts. Her lip kits and eyeshadow palettes, at one point, retailed for $27 and $42 respectively. At a street fair on Long Island teen girls were falling over themselves to buy the stuff. The police showed up after a while, arrested some entrepreneurial boys hawking the cosmetics, all of which turned out to all be fake. The teens didn’t seem to care.

Kylie got some game. Kylie has a brand. Just ask my SnapChat stock, which lost mega value when she dinged the platform after it updated the interface.

If you are not Kylie Jenner and there is not pent up demand for anything and everything you touch, you need a brand strategy. In fact, in 15 years when Kylie isn’t hot (commercially), she may rue the fact she didn’t establish an organizing principle for her brand. Kids!

Creating brands out of people is hard. Creating brands for companies and products is easy. Claim and proof is the fasted, most enduring way.
If you are interested in some success stories and examples, write


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Not enough credit has been giving to the name of my business in this blog. What’s The Idea? is the name of the blog and the business. People think is a cool name even though the URL requires explanation: “Not what is the idea, what’s the idea dot com, sans apostrophe.”

What’s The Idea? perfectly describes my brand consultancy. The search for a fitting and motivating brand idea consumes me. A single idea that captures what consumers care about and what brands are good at. (Care-abouts and good-ats.)

Not every marketer thinks they need an “idea.”  It’s not top of mind. But a sound brand idea helps position, sell and defend against competitors. If you market and don’t brand, you’re apt to struggle.

The funny thing is, the “ideas” I come up with are almost never mine. Sure I put the words together. I may even add some poetry. But the ideas come from others: from buyers, and sellers, and influencers. I’m actually just the curator. The prioritizer. I decide which idea best motivates selling and buying of a particular brand. The I organize under that idea, three proof planks to guide the way.

So when I say “What’s The Idea?” to a marketer, I’m not just branding, I’m asking a fundamental marketing question.

What is your brand idea?




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Bad Brand Magic.

magic cauldron

Brands are meaningless without products. It used to be easy in the old days, before service companies came about. Everything was clean; you bought things that went thump on a table or desk. You bought stuff. Stuff had qualities to which you could associate value. Then along came services like insurance and banking — and value was derived from process and experience. In this world price became even more important.

Fast forward 30 years past the service economy to the information economy, fueled by integrated circuits and computers, business accelerants, and product have become a much smaller part of the economy. The science of marketing in this economy has become “magical.” And not in a good way. In a way where magic is unexplainable. Enter the overuse and obfuscation of the word brand. Brand has become the ephemera around which fees and silly ads are built… around which logos and taglines are traded.

But let me take a breath. Branding has evolved.

Service companies can be brands. They can establish muscle memory for the value of a process or experience. But it takes a framework. It takes, as I like to call it, an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”

I’ve done brand strategy this work for billion dollar organizations, service groups within billion dollar orgs and small businesses who sell to billion dollar orgs. And you know what? Every service is the same and every service is different. If you’d like to take the bad magic out of your marketing, write me (steve at whatstheidea) and I’ll share some examples of powerful service brand strategies. Peace.


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The problem with history is it’s being made now.  And because it is happening now, no one sees it as historic. The heinous crimes going on today in the Central African Republic are historic. It is Rwanda of 9 years ago, but because it’s happening now, they are seen as a horrid day on the news cycle — not viewed with the context it will be.

Brand Planners need to think historically. Historically, from the future. I like to think that great leaders, the ones about whom biographies are written, have an expanded, longer term view of things. They can remove themselves from the here and now and see bigger pictures…see today within larger context.

Brand planners approach their work this way. They are not pipe smoking academics – heads in cloud – they are charged with seeing beyond the dashboard, beyond the metrics of the day (though certainly guided and informed by them). Only then can they guide the now and the mission. Results today sans mission are serendipity. And brand false. (I loved Barry Diller’s recent quote to Tina Brown, “Enough about traffic.”)

Brand plans grow, mature and adapt. Like children, they are fortified by family and environment. Great plans without great products are few and far between, but not unheard of. (Know of any? Feel free to share.)

Now, wash your hands and go make some history. Peace!


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One thing that seems to be a norm for my consulting business is what happens when I present the brand strategy.  (A brand plan is made up of one strategy statement and three support planks.)  Almost always there is one word in the strategy that makes the client uncomfortable.  Until recently whenever I remark about this phenomenon to clients, I feel a little defensive about it – almost apologetically so. Not anymore. I’ve grown up.  The objectionable word is usually the strength of the brand plan. The ballast (which is long for another word).

This “one objectionable word” notion echos things I’ve heard creative people say to clients about advertising.  “If it makes you feel a little uncomfortable, it is good creative.  It will be noticed and remembered” they say. 

The discomfort clients’ feel is because a good brand plan is not easy. It’s work. Born of the category, target consumers and the company DNA (sorry about the markobabble, but is is a good work sometimes), a brand plan is only a beginning.

Clients that want to slide into a brand plan with great ease and a sense of constant well-being are not ready to work. To innovate. To sweat the wins and losses. Those who are ready are prepared to live the strategy, to toil and feed it. To create life around the brand.  If your brand is a name, color palette and the ad agency’s new campaign, your brand is not alive. It’s not pulsing.  You don’t have a brand, you have a product. Peace.


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As the economy moves away from manufacturing toward service, which it has been doing for 25 years now, the number of people who are actually making things decreases. Desks across America are filled with people whose jobs it is to make decisions and manage others. Sure, iPhones are being manufactured, and cars are being constructed. Sure, food is being processed, packaged, sold and served.  But the number of companies doing it has decreased and the scale of those companies hugely expanded. It won’t be long before Wal-Mart has a house brand that takes over the world.

All these people at desks, tasked with making decisions along the chain of command and trying to add value, can create a leadership nightmare.  Add to that the web offering up the ability for people to collapse the 4Ps into a single P (platform) and one can see why brands are becoming more and more important.  Branding is an organizing principle for marketing.

The best brands are culture. The best brands lead companies. Strong brands show the way.  And align the desks.  If you have a strong brand get to know it.  Peace!   


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