good-ats and care-abouts

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Bipolar Brands

I say bipolar brands and you say “not good.” When doing discovery on a branding assignment, I’d love to ladder down to a bipolar brand dealing with only two care-abouts or good-ats. Most of the time, I’m dealing with 15 plus.

Who would start a business with a product or service that was only good at one thing?  I walked into the corporate headquarters of advertising client Adecco a number of years ago and on the reception wall was a canvas touting 40 or so mission words. The written strategy diaspora for Adecco. It’s amazing we were able to get an ad approved.

Brand strategy is an organizing principle anchored to an idea. Bipolar brands, tripolar brand, quadripolar brands don’t have an idea.

Staking your claim to an idea is freeing. Cathartic. A big exhale moment.

What’s your brand idea. What’s the idea?




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Here’s an exercise for brand planners.

I read this morning that when president Richard Nixon prepared for a summit in China to meet Mao Zedong, he created a checklist. What do we want?  What does China want? And what do we both want? Each question had three answers.

Brand planners should ask themselves the same questions only with a slight modification at the end.  What does the company want? What do the consumers want? And what does the brand want?  The brand’s desires may not align with that of the company and could be a healthy source of exploratory tension.

The What’s The Idea? the brand strategy process plumbs consumer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.”  The nexus of these qualities decides the brand claim and proof planks. But with the tripartite “What want?” approach, it may make the planner look at a new dimension.  May.

Might be worth a try.




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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 was reading a recipe this weekend for chick pea chili (don’t judge) and decided right off the bat I’d never make it. Not for the chick peas, not for the drive to the grocery store(s), but for the over complication of ingredients.  I favor minimalism in my cooking. It’s easier to taste a few ingredients. (Google “Fruit Cocktail Effect.”)

My framework for brand strategy reflects this sensibility: One claim, three proof planks.  That’s how you build a brand. One and three.

Getting to one and three isn’t easy though. Trust me. You have to go through hundreds of ingredients to get to the one claim and three planks. When looking for brand good-ats and customer care-abouts, you’ll find many. But when forming brand strategy, don’t just look at the most common ingredients or the most abundant; this job is all about finesse.

For you tyro brand planners out there, use your palette when considering all the ingredients, but use your heart and brain when selecting the true flavors.





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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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Foster Bias & Sales is an imaginary ad agency name I came up with that offers a trifecta of marketing success. These steps to a sale apply to marketing, advertising, even memo writing.

It starts by fostering a positive and receptive environment in which to communicate with customers. Product context, entertainment and/or education are all tools used to foster interest. Gather attention and predispose consumers to listen….that’s Mr. Foster.

Create bias toward your product or against a key competitor is step two. This is where marketers become competitors. Care-abouts and good-ats are what the brand planner mines and the communicator deals in here. Creating bias is not nuanced. It’s hardball.   

Sales obviously refers to action. Real purchase, decision to purchase, or predisposition to purchase. In the sales trade this is called “asking for the order.” Even if implicit. Being too pushy is not attractive, however.  You have to know how and when to ask. If you cross the line you may damage to your ability to foster a proper selling environment. Know when to walk away. Customers appreciate commitment sans the pushy hand. They may come back.        




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nfinity logo

Tate Chalk, the founder of footwear and apparel company Nfinity, has built a brand on par with Nike in the minds of teenage girls in the cheer community. He did so by understanding the morphology of women, i.e., feet, long bones, knees and hips, differs from that of boys. He and his designers built cheer shoes accordingly. “Shrink ‘em and pink ‘em” is what competitors did to sell girls footwear; not Mr. Chalk. His business has grown beyond cheer, using the same guiding principle.

I interviewed Mr. Chalk this week because I wanted a look inside his amazing social media program. He has done everything right. There were few surprises, but there was one left hook. It floored me.

Much of my brand planning work deals with the distillation of customer “care-abouts” and brand “good-ats.” Nfinity has a good handle on those. It has constructed its social media program around 7 core values. I can’t tip his hand, but “Rocky Balboa-ness” is one.  

Nfinity takes its deep, deep understanding of its target group, girls age 10-20, and celebrates it every day. Warts and all. The brand knows which buttons to push and which not to – making the brand real. Nfinity understands the highs and lows of the target as well as the drama. Nfinity also never forgets these kids are hardcore athletes.

Nfinity gets communications planning really well. Better than most big agency comms planners. Time-of-day, location, event, family time, hormones – all are drivers. Moreover, the social media program managers get the “digital two-step,” the mobile lifestyle that takes place 2 feet in front of the target’s noses. And a big plus, Nfinity spends money on production: new video technology, lighting, music, and well-heeled post production. Everyone talks about blocking and tackling in social media, few execute this well.

The Left Hook.

Mr. Chalk and the team of millennials running Nfinity’s program do not go to battle the same way across all social vehicles. They stay true to their core values but treat each platform as a different theater of brand expression. Without going too deeply into his approach, he explained:

“I might be a son, a father, a brother. I am one person but must use different voices in different situations.” While What’s The Idea? uses a framework of 1 claim and 3 proof planks and hits all these notes across touch points, Mr. Chalk gerrymanders his strategy by social media channel, letting the aggregate story convey the Nfinity value. This is nuance. This is smart. This is a company with serious social media chops. His followers agree.  




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