marilyn laurie

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Yesterday I went off a bit on Trout and Ries, saying a brand Claim is akin to a brand Position, but the process, pre-idea and post-idea are different. You can plot a position. You can only cultivate a claim. A claim requires care and feeding. Marketing either strengthens or weakens a claim. A position is less animate.

When Marilyn Laurie a famous AT&T marketer used to say advertising either put a “deposit in the brand bank or a “withdrawal,” she was referring to an animated process.

Branding is simple. Don’t let brand nerds marko-babble you into thinking it’s this complex “only we understand” science.  If you land on the right “Claim” and support it with the right “Proof” planks (3), you can easily build your brand — knowing when you’re making deposits and withdrawals.  

Claim gets the branding glory but Proof is the work horse. Proof is the day job of a brand strategy. Proof is the day job of brand managers. And agents. (The guys hanging off the I-beam with his helmet attached by Super Glue is Proof.) Proof is what convinces consumers. Bluff and bluster do not.



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Branding is not life or death. Unless you are talking about the life and death of products.

Branding is about developing a claim and proof array that brand managers use to organize product, experience, deeds and messaging. Once a brand plan is designed, brand managers are paid to manage adherence. Here’s the big tip: There is no room for diplomacy in brand planning. Diplomacy may be great when dealing with the Russians over Ukraine, but there is no room to “make everybody half happy through compromise” in branding. You are either putting deposits in the brand bank or you are making withdrawals (AT&T’s Marilyn Laurie coined this wonderful metaphor).

Brand managers are going to have to say “no” a lot as they manage their brands. And that’s a good thing. People are going to crawl out of the wood pile with requests for projects to be funded, with promotional ideas, PR events and more – many of which will be nobly intended. But if they’re not “on plan,” not making a deposit in the brand bank, they are a disservice to brand development. Even if a lost kitty farm.

If you are a brand manager and you don’t know how to say “no” or why to say “yes,” it is likely you don’t have a brand plan. If you do have a brand plan but the rest of the company can’t articulate it and use it to make daily decisions in their respective jobs, shame on you as well. Peace.


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Brand Conservation

I was reading this morning about Australia’s 35 year plan to preserve the Great Barrier Reef. Global warming, coastal development, poor water quality, excessive coal commerce and general nastiness are contributing to the reef’s demise. As with many natural wonders of the world, I often ask what it will take for denizens of the planet to stop withdrawing from the natural ecology of the planet and start giving back. In the United States there is a lot of talk about removing electrical dams, for instance, to put rivers back in sync with the natural order, but the talk an action are out of step.

Brands are also at risk these days. Poor brand management, high rates of employee turnover, new media channels, mergers and acquisitions and technological innovations are draining the meaning and perceived value of many brands. Marilyn Laurie, an AT&T brand executive from the 80-90s, used to preach about making deposits in the brand bank, not making withdrawals. When advertising and marketing make deposits the brand gets stronger. Withdrawals make a brand weaker. In this metaphor the brand currency is brand strategy (one claim, three support planks). Without a strategy it’s hard to know the difference between a deposit and withdrawal.

As is the case with planet, large mature brands need to practice conservation to stem loss. Sadly, brands aren’t focusing enough on what they have and what they are diluting — they are simply planting new ideas then checking the dashboard for signs of life.

I was watching a webinar yesterday put on by The Knowledge Engineers, Brand Republic and ABV/BBDO. One slide in particular was telling. It suggested strategy in innovation planning is too focused on the solutions — paying little attention to understanding the problem. We need to fix that. A conservationist approach.  Peace.


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So my friend Mr. X, who is a great ad and idea guy, is telling me about a goob (short for goober) he worked for a few months ago. She had a presumably well-paying job at an ad agency  but he could tell she was an empty suit.  Said boss once mentioned to Mr. X, with whom I’ve had a strategic donnybrook or two, that strategy is not that important.  “Strategy is fluid, Mr. X” she said imperiously. Now Mr. X might stray from the brief every once in a while in an effort to perk up an idea – but he giggles over the fluid notion.

Strategy is not fluid.  But WTF, I don’t know everything – so I posted the question on the account planners group on LinkedIn.  The response seems to favor the fluidity side of the argument, though primarily in nuance and interpretation. It seems fluid is a pop marketing word these days.

Marilyn Laurie of AT&T marketing fame once talked about her brand as a bank.  You are either putting deposits in the brand bank or you’re making withdrawals. Well, here’s a fluidity question:  If you don’t have a brand strategy, clearly defined, how will you know what’s a deposit?  Riddle me that. Idea and planks.  Aka claim and proof. The organizing principle of brand strategy. Peace!   

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