You are currently browsing articles tagged markobabble.

I ran across a company today whose boilerplate description reads thus (the name has been changed):

ABC Communications is a creative marketing partner to our clients. We are experts in building brands and promoting product across all media channels. Our ability to seamlessly integrate online and offline communications in a compelling, unique and effective manner has given us recognition in the quickly growing online community. Providing inspired ideas and compelling creative that empowers and optimizes market presence is our passion!

It’s an agency. Their specialty seems to be integrating off- and online work. So 2009, don’t you think. But let’s not be catty.

My problem here is with the use of the words “brand building.”  Copy the first para. of every agency website extant and paste it into a file then search for “brand building” and you’ll get an 80%+ hit rate. Why? Because every tactic can be seen as brand building, so say the unwashed agency masses.

Real brand strategists know otherwise. Brand building starts with a real brand strategy. A claim or promise and unique proof array. All the marko-babble about “mission” and “values” and “personas” and an assortment of similar agency taxon used to create a halo of understanding between agency and brand marketer really just comes down to “Is there an organizing principle in place that allows for brand building, in a measurable way, that ties to sales.”  With measures that are discrete and finite. In a way that allows brand managers to say “no.” If so, you have a brand strategy. And you can build brands. Otherwise your tactics are nothing more. A loose federation of acts to increase awareness, interest and sales. Simple templates for action.



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I am putting together a workshop for next month and have decided to title it “A marketing consultancy, behind the curtain.” The subtitle is something like, the tools and trick of a marketing consultant. The workshop needs to fill 3-4 hours and as David Bromberg likes to say, I have a “pocketful of funnies,” but need to figure out which ones and in what order to share them.

First off and foremost I will talk about the brand strategy. Most think brand strategy is the thing Landor writes before they charge you $250,000 for a logo and style book. At What’s the Idea? a brand strategy is way more (but less expensive). Here, a brand strategy is defined as an “organizing principle” for business success. Not communications success. In order to create an organizing principle for business success one must first understand business fundamentals. One tool to do so I call 24 Questions. With the 24 Questions answered I can speak the language of the CEO, CFO and CMO. When you use a company’s data and language you tend to not fall into the marko-babble trap – talking about transparency, operational excellence, customer centrism, and elevator speeches.

So explaining brand strategy and the 24 Questions are the first two tools I’ll address in “Behind the Curtain.” Stay tuned for more. Peace.

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I recently looked at two different selling presentations. One was a brand exploratory for a national restaurant chain that has somewhat fallen on hard times. It was a “findings and recommendations” readout for a brand refresh. It took the form of 190 pages in PPT. The second presentation was an agency overview of capabilities in consumer packaged goods. It contained creative, market context and results. This presentation came in at 36 slides and contained some agency credential. Both presos had credentials.

The long presentation started off with the promise of a story. The short one promised capabilities and an overview. Guess which one was more captivating?

The website Medium knows long-form writing can be compelling if done well. The New Yorker and the NY Times concur.

The reason the longer presentation worked better than the short was its approach was narrative-based. The short one was report-based. The former had a serial logic, filled with learning, aha moments and insights. The latter was filled with background, charts, data wrapped in prose and ads. The former led you somewhere with a beginning middle and end. The latter was meant to sell and did so academically.

Storytelling is not markobabble. It may be the pop marketing term of the day, but that’s because it works (again, if done well).  It is what great marketers aspire to.

You can report or you can story. Guess which works better in this data-filled, sales-heavy digiday. Peace.

PS. Speaking of Digiday, they must miss Saya Weissman.


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“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

“Brand success is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – What’s the Idea?

Brand success was more easily managed 10 years ago before many marketers ceded control of messaging to consumers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read and heard senior marketers say “We don’t own our brands anymore, consumers do.” Hell, Google the sentence (use quotes). And the sentiment is dead wrong. Imagine saying the same thing but substituting the words “produce” or “price” or “distribute.”

And today the markobabble of the day is not authenticity or transparency, it’s content. Content marketing, more specifically. The Alitmeter Group just published some quantitative research with three key data points worth sharing. All of which don’t bode well for proper brand management in the age of social.

1. 70% of marketers surveyed lack a consistent or integrated content strategy.

2. 10% of marketers say their content marketing technologies are “fully integrated across people process and platforms.”

3. 40% of marketers surveyed say that the lack of interdepartmental coordination is leading to disparate tools used.

I love social, but it needs to be brand-managed. Not tactically managed. Done well, it helps set expectation for the brand and reinforce brand experience. Done poorly, it can undue lots of good work.



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One thing that seems to be a norm for my consulting business is what happens when I present the brand strategy.  (A brand plan is made up of one strategy statement and three support planks.)  Almost always there is one word in the strategy that makes the client uncomfortable.  Until recently whenever I remark about this phenomenon to clients, I feel a little defensive about it – almost apologetically so. Not anymore. I’ve grown up.  The objectionable word is usually the strength of the brand plan. The ballast (which is long for another word).

This “one objectionable word” notion echos things I’ve heard creative people say to clients about advertising.  “If it makes you feel a little uncomfortable, it is good creative.  It will be noticed and remembered” they say. 

The discomfort clients’ feel is because a good brand plan is not easy. It’s work. Born of the category, target consumers and the company DNA (sorry about the markobabble, but is is a good work sometimes), a brand plan is only a beginning.

Clients that want to slide into a brand plan with great ease and a sense of constant well-being are not ready to work. To innovate. To sweat the wins and losses. Those who are ready are prepared to live the strategy, to toil and feed it. To create life around the brand.  If your brand is a name, color palette and the ad agency’s new campaign, your brand is not alive. It’s not pulsing.  You don’t have a brand, you have a product. Peace.


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Empower is a word that used to be the haps in marketing.  Now it has been replaced by “transparency” and “authenticity” in the markobabble lexicon. Being a contrarian, I look at the word empower and wonder how to use its opposite. Depower? To remove from power or to remove power. When you think about it, removing things that make a consumer’s decision hard is what advertisers try to do.  By simplifying the decision for a consumer, removing all the impeding loci, it becomes easier to buy.

Are you the type of person who has a hard time deciding when looking at a restaurant dinner menu?  Me too. I like duck, and pasta, a steak.  So when I read the menu I’m using the descriptions to aid me. I prioritize the descriptors.

If we look at an ad as a selling device and are speaking to a consumer who must decide using many factors — factors that may not play to our product’s strong suit — we have to depower those factors. So a Coke that may be very refreshing but filled with calories and sugar, needs to depower the latter two qualities so it properly highlights the former. It’s not always about focusing on the positive attributes, the best advertising and marketing strategy sees the rest of the power grid and on all. A little like chess, no?  Peace.


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Be fresh.

So I’m reading an article this morning in USA Today featuring interviews with some top hospitality CEOs, and their answers are peppered with language like: “price of entry,” “customer-for-life,” “providing value” and “surprise and delight.” A marko-babble fest.  Not implying these aren’t smart people, they clearly are. What I’m saying is marketing has become filled with terms of art that are nice on the ear but meaningless. 

Do a Google or Bing search of “whatstheidea+surprise and delight” and if this blog pops up, break out a can of whoop ass. Jargon may be acceptable in meetings but it is the antichrist in external communications. It was copywriting great Walter Weir, I think, who said “if it sounds like copy, it’s good copy.”  Dear old Walter was born in ’06.  The industry has published 10 trillion words copy since then. There is an entire class of ad agencies called “creative hot shops” whose sole reason for being is to break away from Mr. Weir’s premise.

So what should we do?  Drop the babble.  Invent your own selling premise and selling language. Be fresh. Freshies (Sorry, racing a storm to Whiteface today.) And it is okay to be a little fresh in a non-puritanical sense.  We are at 10 trillion words and counting. There are only so many pairings – as Google will tell you. Peace!

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An important target for What’s the Idea? is the technology company. I’ve worked with AT&T on the digital applications side, helped launch Lucent (now Alcatel-Lucent), wrote a lauded brand strategy for ZDNet and have helped scads of mid-size tech companies and start-ups.  Beyond experience, why tech companies are so important is the fact that they don’t get branding. The best of the lot are engineer-driven and see brand and marketing nerds are empty jeans.

So for you tech engineers and entrepreneurs, here’s a simple metaphor: Brand planners are like back end developers. If the back end is the hardware and engine and the front end the software and user interface (UI), then we brand planners work the former. The back end creates the organizing principle that determines which 1s and 0s to turn on and off.  The brand plan creates and governs the same and the pathways.  It’s simple really.  Perhaps marketers have tried to make it sound so complicated with all our markobabble and talk about silly things like transparency, activation and, and, and.  But a brand plan is one meaningful strategy and 3 governing principles. On or off.  

The front end in the metaphor  — what users see — is advertising, newsletters, digital content, acquisition programs.  Without good governance, these things show up on a corporate homepage as 38 buttons.  What I love about people like Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, Steve Rubel, Peter Kim, Bob Gilbreath and Jeff Dachis to a degree, is they get the brand “back end” and, so, their front ends are meaningful. People understand them.

Engineers need to hear and live this lesson. If they do, they’ll see the market through infrared goggles. Peace!

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I broke a rule of mine this morning.  I used the word “transparency” in an email.  The word is anathema to me because it’s part of the lexicon of markobabble used in meeting rooms across America.

The reality is, though, some marketing categories do not tell the complete truth.  They tell the “selling truth” and leave the rest of the story for consumers to figure out.  Thanks to the web, consumers are more educated these days before purchasing things. With rating and ranking systems, it’s harder to sell a dog. But there are still certain categories that are almost in collusion when it comes to telling the whole truth. Banking is one such category.

Were one bank to stand up and go all “Michael Bloomberg soda legislation” on us, it would be refreshing. It would engender trust. Bank vault doors are opaque for a reason. It’s sad because banks don’t stand for anything these days. (Customer service?) They could stand for so much.  Banks are integral to the American dream, yet they get no credit.  That’s because they are always selling. And now with the mortgage scandal fresh in our minds, and borrowing instruments at every turn, we could use a bank to step up and tell us the hard truths.  That strategy is money. Peace.     

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