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First Ad.

A company’s first ad is very telling. Every company should keep its first ad and frame it. Make it available as a tab under “About” on the website. One can predict a lot about a company by reading or watching its first ad. Typically it contains the company Is-Does: what a company is and what it does; something not always well-handled by mature companies, let alone infants. The first ad is likely done in-house. If done by an agency, that’s a good sign. It shows trust and willingness to invest.

First ads often makes one think about logo and tagline. And story. Most first ads happen when a company is small and control is centralized. It will therefore help readers understand vision and the ability of management to focus. It will also convey if the company is going to be “me” (inward) focused or “you” (customer) focused.

A first ad is like a baby. Hard work. Nerve-wracking. Often a little bit ugly. But something to love. It is a beginning.

Dust off your first ad and send it to me. I’ll give you a little blurb on how you have grown your brand since.

Peace in Baltimore.



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Good brand planners are collectors. They question, amass, sort, collect and divine. Great planners take all that and find the truffle. Like the truffle hunting pigs and dogs of Europe. I was recently on a call with some web app people, looking to fund the next big platform. I couldn’t quite tell what the platform was. Or wanted to be. Other than the next big web property. Money lined up, so they said, but the idea was hidden in 10 ideas. So what’s the Is-Does I wondered.

Well turns out the original idea was and is genius! Never done before. Done qith a capital D. In demand. In users’ hearts. And tied to one of the biggest investments a person is likely to make in a lifetime. Did I mention it hadn’t been done? The current construct, however, was nothing more than a Facebook Group.

This truffle hunter (me) listened and in minutes knew the problem.

What’s the Idea? Answer that, you of the web world, and you may proceed. Take it from someone who missed out on a brilliant web property (Google Zude+Scoble) because it was overbuilt. Suffered from feature creep. Didn’t follow the “idea.”



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The Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG) just announced a minority investment in Samba TV. Props to Michael Roth and Chad Stoller. This looks like money well invested.

I’m always looking for the Is-Does when it comes to brands and Samba TV seems to be an analytics company. One tapped into 10 million household TV cable boxes. The Does of the Is-Does may be best described by co-founder and CEO of Samba TV, Ashwin Navin: “We think that more data will allow brands to reach more people they care about and waste less of their media budgets.”

This bulls eyes the famous John Wannamaker quote “I know half my advertising is working, problem is I don’t know which half.” Samba TV may not corral the missing half, but it will start to get close.

Nice to see IPG getting back up on the horse again. It’s good for business. Peace!


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Small businesses need to think small but they don’t. Retail businesses tend to focus more, though not all of them. (A friend started up a deli and hedged his bet by putting in pizza oven.) Business-to-business organizations are notorious for lacking focus. The easiest way to see this is to visit their websites. Sometimes you can read the home page and the About Section and still can’t tell what they do. What the hell does a “collaboration company” sell? How about a “communications company?” These descriptors suffer from broad taxonomy.

The opposite of the too-broad-to-be-meaningful approach is the “10 pound bag” approach. Rather than focus, these SMBs over-focus, over-explain. So a benefits company also becomes a financial services, wealth management, property and casualty coverage and retirement and executive plan company.

The anecdote to this is what I call the Is-Does. What a company Is and what it Does. One simple statement of product and benefit. If you can’t get your Is-Does right, you need to find someone who can. And don’t expect a web development company to do it. Or an SEO company. They get paid by the pixel. They make more money the less articulate you are.

Focus and articulation is a small or mid-size company’s best friend. Especially on the web. Insert your Yogi Berra quote hear. Get the Is-Does right and you have a great beginning.





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The Big Rebrand.

One of the cool things about my work is the propensity for decision-makers to want to rebrand. Unlike with personal names (Cecil, Muriel or Wallace) which can’t be changed — company names are easily altered or sculpted. Someone is always trying to distance the company from something.

That observation aside, there is going to be an even greater demand for new company names. All those companies or brands with words “Net” or “Web” or “Digital” in them are wasting space. To that you may even add the word “Technologies.” These words were descriptive back in the day (10 years ago); today, not so much. Apple dropped the word “Computer” from its name in 2007. An elegant move, no?

I often talk about naming and the importance of a brand’s “Is-Does.” What a brand is and what a brand does. The inflection point we’re at today is such that names no longer need to convey the obvious.  In this agile, competitive world, there is much more information and value to convey.

Let the renaming onslaught begin. Peace.

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Next week I am participating in a small business panel sponsored by Teachers Federal Credit Union entitled “30 Marketing Ideas in 6o Minutes.” Panelists are from a number of marketing disciplines, mine is branding. My first tip will be the “Is-Does.” What a company is and what a company does. To find a company Is-Does look at the About section of their website or boiler plate on press releases. One of the biggest obstacles to great branding is a poor or vacuous Is-Does.

Here’s an example from a company called Express Scripts:

Express Scripts, Inc. is one of the nation’s leading full-service pharmacy benefit management (“PBM”) companies. The Company coordinates the distribution of outpatient pharmaceuticals through a combination of benefit management services, including retail drug card programs, Home Delivery services, formulary management programs and other clinical management programs. We also distribute a full range of injectible biopharmaceutical products directly to patients or their physicians, and provide extensive cost-management and patient-care services. We provide these types of services for clients that include health maintenance organizations, health insurers, employers, union-sponsored benefit plans, third-party administrators, workers’ compensation and governmental health programs.

Do you think anyone knows what a pharmacy benefits management company is? This “Is” is a show stopper. It’s hard to tell the target. Consumers? Businesses? Both? Good thing they are one of the nation’s leading companies.

You would think small companies wouldn’t have this problem. You would be wrong. Get the Is-Does right and you have a chance at getting the brand right. Peace.  

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So now that the business questions are out of the way and brand plan is set (the sausage making clients aren’t particularly fond of) we can begin to make “stuff.” The best way to make stuff is to present it in the form of a marketing communications plan. The plan recaps and toplines what was learned during the 24 Questions and organizes strategies, targets, messages and tactics based upon the brand plan. In the Behind the Curtain workshop I will share a marketing communications plan — key deliverable #3 for marketing consulting clients.

After the marcom plan review I will probably show a slide with 5 or 6 planning tools and let the room decide which they want to hear about. The Is-Does is a simple tool, kind of like an elevator speech, that helps explain what a brand is and what it does. Posters Vs. Pasters is a reductionist social media segmentation intended to improve virality and engagement. Twitch Point Planning is a digital age communications planning tool, the object of which is to move customers closer to a sale. Brand Spanking is qualitative research construct develop to knock market leaders down a peg. The Fruit Cocktail Effect is what happens when you lose focus. And ROS, or return on strategy, is a quant approach to proving value beyond tactics. I will leave 20 minutes for Q & A and the workshop will be done. Looking forward to it.




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Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s new CEO, went on record yesterday in an internal memo saying the company is going to double down its focus. His implication is that the company needs to move faster, smarter and with less layers. Some read that is layoffs are coming — having just assumed 25,000 employees brought on with the Nokia purchase. (You’d think with 25,000 employees they could make a mobile phone with a working speaker. I am “0 for 6” with Lumia 928s.)

If focus is what Microsoft needs, it may be a little hard based upon Mr. Nadella’s explanation of the business he’s in. As quoted in today’s NYT, Microsoft is “the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world.” I’m sure this started out as a fine Is-Does, but somewhere along the way team members, investor relations and business line leaders bolted on language to make it a bit of a porridge.

I never liked the word “platform” in an Is-Does.  It’s such a catch all. Productivity platform may have worked but not “productivity and platform.”  Semantics I know. Then you have the words mobile and cloud. Whoosh, was that a truck driving through.  Plus how can both be first?  This is a smart man no doubt.  That said, it’s hard to be focused and hyper-productive with a broad Is-Does.



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I’ve worked on a number of brands at different stages of their lifecycle. And depending on the stage, they need a different type of web site organization. Marketing is about moving a consumer closer to a sale.

A fairly common definition of steps to a sale is covered by the acronym AIDA: awareness, interest, desire, action. For an unknown brand you don’t achieve awareness just by having someone on your website; they must know what the company does. Does the brand pass the Is-Does test?

Once there and aware how does one create interest? Typically with some context about a product’s usefulness or a unique function that captures the imagination. A website home page must pass the interest test, if none exists.

Third, if a brand has met the A and the I, we must tackle the D, desire. Often ads and websites load up on benefits to achieve desire. This can border on bragging and quite often diminishes the Interest factor. Be wary of shallow, common benefits. Also beware of pile on.

Action is where the money is. The best action is click to buy. Or go to store to buy. But some actions are brand positive and moving closer to a sale, say, like a prove comparison or a feature comparison. That’s action.  Feel something thane do something.

Knowing what stage you’re in and not covering tread upon ground is key.  Coke doesn’t need to work on awareness. Know where you are — and design your web home page experience accordingly and you are doing your visitors a service.  Otherwise you are bombarding them with the kitchen sink and ceding the experience to search and whim. Peace.


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A lot of money is exchanging hands today in the design and manufacture of websites. People get the “Is” of the website.  It’s a thing. Every company needs a site. But the vast majority of websites are all about the Is not the “Does.” And if there is a sense of Does, it’s about offering information. Contact. About. Products.  Some conduct ecommerce on their websites, but very few.

The best websites start with the “Does.” What is the role of the website in moving a customer closer to a sale?  I think it was Ford’s James Farley who first said “Good advertising makes you feel something, then do something.” 

We might call this approach doability. Doability before usability.

As ad agencies wean themselves from making just ads and move toward selling applications and selling buildables, they will transform what the modern website looks like. And I can’t wait.  Brain Solis of the Altimeter Group said last year “It’s 2013, why do websites still suck?”  Because they are overlooking the Does.

Brand planning starts upstream, pairing what a company is good at with what customers want.  Great websites do the same. They start upstream. Call it customer journey or whatever you like, but websites are about predisposing customers toward a sale at the very least and about placing an order at the very most. So please don’t share this post. Write or call me and let’s do.


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