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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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A term of art in branding these days is “elevator speech.” It is a reference to a concise explanation of purpose. David Belasco, a great theater impresario, once said “If you can’t put your idea on the back of a business card, it’s not a clear idea.”

The thing about elevator speeches is that they can be poorly constructed. They can meander. They also can be incomplete. Last week I met someone who referred to herself as an educational consultant, when in fact, she counseled high school students selecting colleges. I thought she provided consulting services to K12 and universities. Poor elevator speech.

I get around this by coaching clients to think about their Is-Does: What a brand is and what a brand does.  In this day and age of tech start-ups, it is sometimes hard to know if you are dealing with a company, service, software, hardware or some combination thereof…often referred to as a platform. You are likely to find a company’s Is-Does in the first sentence and “About” paragraph of their press releases. Also on their website About section. But even there, they are not always clear. Not always succinct.

Undercurrent’s Is-Does: “Strategic partner for the 21st century” is a good one. Pregnant with meaning. My Is-Does for What’s the Idea?: “A brand consultancy” is good one, but lacks a benefit a la for the 21st century reference of Undercurrent — read innovation.  

A good way to judge your Is-Does is to think of it as you would a 5 second radio sponsorship. Fill in these blanks. This program brought to you by Brand X, the ________, that ________. Hmm. Maybe I should change Is-Does to The-That.  

Get your Is-Does right…so others can. It’s the first step in good branding. Peace. 


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I consult with a lot of companies, especially start-ups and those in emerging markets, that have a hard time articulating their Is-Does: What a brand Is and what it Does.   The reality is, I have a hard time with the Is-Does in my own humble practice.  My logo says I’m a “brand consultancy.”  Everyone knows what a consultancy is but when the word brand is added, understanding goes out the window.   

Marketing insiders and those in the branding business know what I mean, but they’re not the target. (Not unless I’m looking to get hired or freelance.) Most of my customers are marketers.  And most marketers don’t wake up every day sweating a hostile business environment saying “I need to invest a few thousand dollars in brand consultation.” They might say “I need some sales,” or “I wish I understood why my customers are leaving,” or “Are there segments I am overlooking?”

The word these people understand is strategy. Slap the word brand next to it and it loses meaning – losing the ability to answer the aforementioned questions. (My explanation of brand planning and the brand strategy rigor clears up the misunderstanding, but at face value, contextually, the business value is not obvious.) 

Were I to position myself as a marketing consultant rather than a brand consultant, I would reduce any Is-Does issues. I, too, have an Is-Does issue. Stay tuned for the deconstruction of the problem and the solution. Peace.

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The Altimeter Group just rebranded according to Charlene Li, CEO. I’ve never met Ms. Li, but did do an analysts briefing with her (while she was in China) during my Zude start-up days. Influential doesn’t even begin to describe Ms. Li’s role in the technology business. She’s the Ester Dyson of the new millennium. That said, Ms. Li has fallen into the trap many have when referring to branding, or in this case, rebranding. Brands are not style and make-up. Not logo design and color. Brands are organizing principles anchored to an idea. A customer facing idea.

The Altimeter Group has altered its logo, PPT, newsletter format and, soon, will redesign its web site — but I’m not feeling a brand idea or brand strategy.  Disruption, social leadership and change are three words to describe the sandbox Altimeter plays in. And as for the Is of the Is-Does, they are definitely analysts. But I’m not seeing a strategy.

Ms. Li and team have been leaders in sharing information on social business strategies. And it is thought provoking, smart, transformative work. However, treating branding with color and design and not a strategy component is like saying social business redesign can take place by adding some Twitter, content managers, Yammer and a video production studio.

Hey Altimeter, What’s the Idea?  


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