claim and proof array

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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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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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I’m not against storytelling. It’s an important part of my business. When collecting information to build brand strategy I hunt for stories and often tell stories to get others to open up. But in and of itself, a story won’t do shit for a brand. Especially, if it’s off-piste.

Storytelling is a pop marketing topic many brand consultants rest upon.  My “brand-ar” goes off when I hear someone use the term; it suggests they’re blowing marko-babble smoke.

Think of storytelling as the code and brand strategy as the app. The app being the meaningful, useful tool.

Brand strategy done right is about claim and proof — packaged into a discrete organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.

Stories and storytelling are communications tools, not strategy tools.



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Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is one of the greatest healthcare organizations in the world. Perhaps the greatest. As a result, it has also become a powerful, powerful brand. It is exactly what it is…and lives up to the brand claim “the best cancer care anywhere.”  Its words spread through stories and proof. Patients and caregivers syphon proof off their experiences and share. (Branding revolves around “claim” and “proof.”)

MSKCC more scienceA couple of years ago MSKCC appointed new advertising agency Pereira O’Dell. I complimented the shop and client on the new brand strategy claim “More Science. Less Fear.” Having worked in healthcare branding for a long time, studying the claim and proof arrays of the top area hospital systems (disclosure: I penned one of those strategies), I rubbed my hands together in anticipation of some good work to follow.

This past week I was listening to an MSKCC radio spot and was disappointed to hear talk about serving the “mind, body and soul” of patients. This type of copy is what you’d expect from a religious-based group or a second tier hospital. From a system that can’t differentiate based on the science. This ad hurt MSKCC in two ways. It didn’t deliver on the brand promise, wasting money, time and resources, but more importantly it dumbed down the sanctity of the brand, making MSKCC peddlers of healthcare marko-babble like many others.

If anyone can educate the populace about the science of cancer care, using real proof, it’s Memorial.

This isn’t that hard. Find your claim and prove it every day.




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Can a brand be strategic or must strategy be left to the brand managers? Save for machines, inanimate things can’t do animate things.  However, by recasting the What’s The Idea? tagline, to include “Brand managers come and go…a powerful brand strategy is indelible,” I offer that a brand can be strategic.

In Kansas City many moons ago while exposing ads to consumers for the launch of WorldWorx videoconferencing service, a focus group participant claimed “That’s not an AT&T ad.  AT&T would never speak to me that way.” Ad dead.  Brand strategy alive and well.

People are the best administers of brand strategy yet they are fallible. Only when brand strategy is truly codified and attached to a product does it begin to grow in brand value. One claim and three proofs planks is how one builds a brand strategy. It’s how a brand sustains — in deeds, actions, messaging and, even, offering itself.

If your brand cannot be articulated via this simple claim and proof array, it’s not strategic. The people are. Bad berries.



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Brand Lift-Off.

One of the goals of What’s The Idea? is to create for clients explicit guidance for “product, experience and messaging.” It’s not easy but it’s doable. The real hard part is turning that explicit brand strategy into implicit company actions. Brand actions, behaviors and deeds enculturated through the company or brand group are the Holy Grail. When this happens consumers learn and follow. As brand strategy permeates a company and the using masses, brands begin to thrive. You can feel it.

Brand strategy training is a key component of brand management. When the receptionist knows the brand claim and proof array (3 proof planks) and is able to espouse and act on it as well as the CEO and CMO, we have lift off.

When explicit turns implicit, we have brand lift off.




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I was reading an ad this morning with the headline “Deeds not words.” If any words define What’s The Idea?, they are these. Alas, it is “words” that I sell. I sell brand briefs. I sell strategic plans. Words on paper. But…

My brand planning due diligence is all about “deeds.” Deeds are the actions that yield outcomes. Outcomes are where many planners spend their time. “We’re number 1. Low cost provider. In business for 35 years.” Outcomes are fine but they are the result of deeds. Once I’ve collected enough deeds, the claim (brand promise) begins to emerge.

I’ve written before about getting to the claim by first finding the proof.  Or assembling proof clusters first. But proof can be a step removed from a deed. Proof can be an outcome or a result.  It’s better to start with deeds. Nothing in marketing (or life) starts without deeds. Physical actions, investments, actualized promises from a brand put money and psychic investment in play. It’s existential.

This is where words stop and how brands are built. Peace.


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In the part of my brand strategy presentation where I lay out my framework (1 claim, 3 proof planks), I talk about the many targets a brand must address. With B2B products, the targets tend to be job or function-related. For a healthcare service, as an example, I might want the brand to speak to patients, docs, care-givers and insurance companies. This adds complexity when it comes to finding the claim. On the consumer side of the house, the targets are often consumer segments.

starbucks machiatta

I was reading about a Starbucks barista in Williamsburg Brooklyn this morning and how he is one of group of highly skilled Howard Schultz employees, dialing up the flavor selections of artisanal brews, soon to be released under the “Roastery” name — coffee draughts which may list for as high as $10. The Williamsburg drinkers of this high-end coffee are not the bulk of the Starbucks buyers around the country; they’re not part of the double, double, half hazelnut, half vanilla, two sugars, muffin top set. A group that pays the bills.

So how does one brand cater to both targets with a single Starbucks brand? Without, sorry for the pun, diluting the brew? Well, the brand has to be future proof. It has to have a claim and proof plan array that appeals to all segments. Though I am not privy to the Starbucks brand strategy, I know it’s accommodating. It will handle the Roastery and the mixed coffee drink crowd. Starbucks has a brand strategy that encompasses. That includes. But also focuses. Starbucks has mad blending skills.




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femmes d alger

Ninety percent of branding is plan driven: understanding what customers want most (related to your product and category) and what you do best. You find a strategic claim and three proof planks, then you build equity using that claim and proof array until its hard as steel. But…but.

Just when you think you know something about the business, someone comes along and proves you wrong. And therein lies the other 10%.

Every one once in a while an idea comes along that is off brief, off strategy, and is just too good to pass up. It may be tangential to a strategy. It may be in the neighborhood but not on the right block,. You just feel in your bones it’s a business winner. That’s the 10 percent. And you have to go for it. As Eddie Vedder says “It’s evolution baby.”  It may help morph the strategy. It may not. This is a creative business plus we are dealing with people; so you have to try things that speak to you. Strategy is mellifluous. Impressionistic.

Show a person on the street a copy of Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger, which BTW recently sold at auction for $180M, and they might think it childlike. Brand planners are in the business of creating positive product impressions. Impressions that draw consumers closer to a brand, not just closer to a sale. It’s so “not science” alone.  Cut the leash 10% of the time and allow in a little impressionism.



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Critical to the success of social media or content marketing strategy is the concept of “motivation.” Borrowed from the acting world where a good actor uses a motivation to bring his or her character to life, motivation in social is meant to drive all that is posted and pasted.

Social media motivation is not random – it’s a direct outgrowth of brand strategy. Motivation must illuminate and demonstrate the claim and proof array that are a product’s brand strategy. This opens up and speeds up consumer understanding of brand strategy. It brings brand strategy out of paper mode and theory mode and into experience and action – creating muscle memory.

A customer care person on the phone who understands a company’s brand strategy can decide on the fly how to act. How to deliver. How to behave. This is where acting can turn into reality. And reality into culture.

Strategy is brilliant but until it turns into product, deeds and experiences it’s just ink on a screen. Peace.



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