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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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Who handles social media at large companies? Corporate Communications? Public Relations? Investor Relations? Marketing? Website? Customer Service? Human Relations.  Yes.  And at large companies there are often regional and international offices. Yes and yes. Most large corporations have a number of agency partners, as well: ad agencies, PR shops, digital, retail, B2B, promotion shops – you get the idea.  And God forbid, some of the people on payroll are career climbers trying to do some new things, new ways and name a name for themselves? So who is orchestrating all of this stuff? Is it the CMO? That wo/man with the 19 month shelf life?

Social media, one component of marketing, is creating a dilution of corporate brands and products similar to what global warming is doing to the glaciers and icecaps. We know it’s happening, we just don’t believe it. And we are having too much fun with our carbons. I mean social tools.

So what’s the fix Mr. Steve Poppe (as my friend Rachel might say)? An organizing principle that governs the product, its experience, and all facets of marketing. A brand plan: one idea (strategy), three planks.

Customer service, guided by a brand plan is better customer service. Pricing supporting a brand plan, better pricing. These are the words of the brand planner. Peace!

PS. Thanks to Altimeter Group’s Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang for the thought starter. 


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When a group of CMOs on LinkedIn has to ask the question “What is a brand?” (Or was it a bunch of brand planners?)  The fact that the question is asked is damning.  I’m a big Noah Brier fan – he of Percolate – and even he asked me once “How do you define a brand plan?” His question was meant to see if I was all dreads and no cattle. There are so many a practitioners out there who don’t have a clue.

Many rubber-meets-the-road marketing types want to know “How do I measure a brand plan?”  “How do I measure the sales return of a brand plan?”  The answer is easy.  First, have one.

Assuming your brand plans are like mine: one claim and 3 support planks, the measures are easy. If one plank is about being fastidious, you can ask your customers to rank you on fastidiousness.  You can ask general consumers to rate you as well, that will tell you how well the story is getting out. You can rate yourself on fastidiousness – doing spot checks on personnel performance. On a macro level, you then tie sales, margins, or stock performance to the rise and fall of these brand plan metrics.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  This is the part of the dashboard you get to present upstairs at headquarters, while the cost-per-click and coupon redemption people remain waiting in the lobby.  Along with the people polishing that gleaming Cannes Lion.

(The headline for this post is for you to interpret.  It’s part George W. part morning coffee. Hee hee.) Peace!

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Is your brand a little scatterbrained?  Does it sometime feel like it lacks direction? Do your brand managers like to keep busy – sometimes just for busy’s sake?  Maybe you brand need a little therapy.

How does one go about getting brand therapy? Well, you need to go to a professional. You might ask “But can’t I do this myself?”  The answer is no. Just like you can’t do your own appendectomy. Some parents can’t see their kids for who they are.  A momma rarely thinks her baby is funny looking. It’s hard to heal thyself when it comes to brands.  You are too close and too invested.

The tools a professional uses and the tools an informed brand manager or CMO uses will often be the same: research, data, demographics, psychographics, competitive analysis, listening, and concept testing.  But it’s what one does with all that information that is therapeutic.  Deciding what must be discarded and what must be kept in the brand plan. What to give away vs. what to cultivate and grow.  This is what will come up in brand therapy and what will drive the client to key realizations. It is the client that has to make the tough decisions. The client that will self-actualize the brand. The therapist facilitates and lays out the issues, but the client makes the decisions.  The process is therapeutic, painful and healthy. 

I wonder why more companies don’t do it.  Brand therapy makes for healthier brands and healthier brand manager. Peace!

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Living in the now is what marketing directors are hired to do.  There is nothing more stimulating for a marketer than watching the orders come in. Units, dollars, cases…these are the things that generate wood. Behind the arrow. 😉  Sales are the real data. Being able to interpret feeder data and relate it to sales is important, but sales are the business.

Strategy is the landscape that surrounds sales; the lens through which we see and interpret them. Yet sales-driven organizations don’t always care about strategy, they care about the now.  They live in the now.  A good part of my brand planning rigor is devoted to tracking the sales and selling experience.  It feeds the strategy.  But sales and sales tactics that live in the now without a paean to strategy become easily tired.

Marketing directors need to balance the now with the long term. Slow and steady do not get marketing directors to the head of the line.  Meg Whitman, CEO of HP is no marketing director (Oh yes she is) but she’s being given time to turn HP around. Slow and steady.  Marketing directors don’t have that luxury; especially with dashboard jockeys on every horizon.  

The key for any new marketing director or CMOs over their first 100 days is to learn the business, properly cultivate the marketing department, quickly plant seeds, and share successes. With a plan, with a strategy, all tactics become accountable.  Good sales and bad sales become obvious. Now. Then. And when. Peace.


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On Sept 7, 2011 I predicted Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo! would be out within a year. It happened in July 2012. I’ve followed and blogged about Yahoo since the beginning of What’s the Idea? and was internet raised on Yahoo.  I want it to succeed, but it has been a messy go the last 5 years. Perhaps that is changing.

According to new CEO Marissa Mayer in an article from today’s New York Times, Yahoo’s top priority is to “Make the world’s daily habits inspiring and entertaining.”  I smell a brand strategy.

Over the years, Yahoo has had many leaders, many missions and many goals: Become the Internet starting point for the most consumers. Become a ‘must buy’ for the most advertisers. Become an open technology platform for developers.  Become an innovative content company. A mobile leader. And and and…

“Make the world’s habits inspiring and entertaining” is a brand strategy that has ballast.  Remember it’s not the creative, it’s a strategy. Support it with three endemic and meaningful brand planks and you have the start of something – a brand plan. 

I’m not going to parse the sentence yet and frankly a brand strategy with a conjunction (“and”) is a bit of a weasel, but the exciting keywords are: world, habits, daily, inspire, entertain.  Were I a Yahoo brand manager, CMO, or VP and if someone brought me a new mobile app or content idea, I could easily use this strategy as a litmus test for approval.  It’s still broad and in need of refinement but it’s a start. As my daughter used to say “I yike it!”  Peace.

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The lifespan of a CMO is somewhere in the neighborhood 18-22 months.  Who would want that job?  I guess it pays well. The reality is chief marketing officers tend to be judged harshly by other C-level executives. They are Cs, but judged as Ds.  Would you like to know why? (I bet you saw this one coming.)  It is because they don’t have a brand plan and are judged based upon subjective criteria. 

Many think a brand plan is a color scheme, or new logo and signage. Or a new ad campaign from the new agency. 

A brand plan is so not those things. A brand plan is an organizing principle for doing business. As an organizing principle it provides direction for everything done on behalf of a brand. (Even hiring.) If a CMO has a plan understood and blessed by the CEO, then everything created by the CMO is pre-approved.  No more looking at a blank piece of paper for marketing program inspiration. No more trotting out last year’s program and for updating. There is a strategic plan in place that gives form to all 4Ps.  But most CMOs don’t have this tool.  They have an Excel spreadsheet with a budget, sales goals and deltas (the diff between goal and actual).  They have a marketing plan with line items for tools, functions and a KPI or two. If they are lucky the budget sheet and the marketing plans resolve to some sort of accountability (ROI), but that’s a rarity. 

 A brand without a plan metaphorically is like looking at a new home construction and blaming an ugly, dysfunctional house on the nails. “Less nails, next time.”

I know firsthand what CMOs face. And without a brand plan, sold in and sold firm, the clock on CMO tenure continues to tick. Peace! 



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One of my pet peeves is category experience. In the marketing and advertising businesses, it’s everything. Recently, I lost a consulting opportunity because of not having enough financial experience. It was true. Hiring lore suggests: When you come to a position with your head filled with numbers, trends and category milestones, you are a quick study. This approach creates comfortable hiring. (An aside: Do you know how many people take credit for MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign?)

Personally, I am most energized when in a new category — being scared, facing a blank piece of paper. Tabula rasa. No preconceptions. Childlike discovery moments all around. Surrounded by fresh language, sights and sounds.  Like being in a new country.

One of today’s marketing heavyweights, Joe Tripodi, is a category surfer. That’s why he is so strong.  His career trail meanders: IBM, MasterCard, Mobil Oil, Bank of NY, Seagrams Wine and Spirits, All-State, and currently the CMO of Coca-Cola. Whoever hired Mr. Tipodi recognized that his light shines in the area of marketing not technology or banking.

Good brand and account planners achieve because they see things through fresh eyes. Great hiring agents approach hiring similarly.  Be great when hiring. Peace.  


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One of the fun things about having a blog is in predicting things that eventually come true. I predicted Google’s trivestiture a couple of years ago and that hasn’t happened. Yet. You can’t win them all. But my posts about Microsoft’s brand diaspora – the unfettered and uncontrolled creep of its brands, highlighted by use of the word “Live,” I’m excited to say, looks to be accurate.  Microsoft is retiring the word “Live.” Readers know I’m behind Microsoft making a flash-cut away from the word “Windows,” as in Windows 8, in favor of the word “Tiles,” but that’s not likely to happen soon. That’s because Windows is a repository for all other creeping sub-brands.  Windows is okay to keep alive for archiving purposes, but Windows 8 should be named Tiles as should the new mobile OS.  Tiles suggests the user paradigm shift much the way Windows did in the 90s.

A new CMO tasked with making things more efficient from a messaging standpoint might walk into Microsoft and on day one fire a bunch of brand names.  It would be hard medicine but the creep (verb) has really gotten out of hand. Retiring Live is a good move. Peace! 

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The two most important titles at any large public company are CEO and CMO.  The former is the owner of “now” and all business metrics.  The latter owns the future and the money making machinery. When these two positions are in alignment and share a challenge, things should work wonderfully.  When at odds or working cross purposes, things become interesting, exciting and pregnant with possibility. If there is respect, this is a good situation. But when the two titles are ships passing in the night, the company is either lazy, lopsided or in danger.

Operations, HR, finance, customer, sales are all vital to a company success, but they feed at the trough of leadership and product strategy.  That comes from the CEO and the CMO.  In my mind, Yahoo’s problem in the C-level suite is tied to a weakness in the marketing area.  Yahoo doesn’t have an Is-Does. Yahoo is a company of lots of Ises and lots of Doeses. The way out of the problem at this point is to find two people who can work together to solve this thing.  A tandem hire is needed. Peace!


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