megan kent

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I’m working on an assignment that has me reading a child development text by a PhD and clinician who also happen to be parents.  The text delves into brain function. Fellow brand planner and friend Megan Kent has built up a great practice mapping the brain to preference and emotional attachments to brands. Check her out.

When I look at my discovery process, I realize the success of my practice owes a great deal to they way I interact with my interviewees.  I listen, parry, enthuse (to join in) and redirect in ways that show interest in the interviewee, in their smarts and experiences. I do it to gain trust of the person — and for the subject. By jumping in as a nonjudgmental listener, they open up and tell me things they might not even tell a spouse. I show them a little of mine, they show me theirs. What I’ve been learning from my brain book, however, is this omniscient friend approach may leave some things on the table. I may not be truly listening.

I am going to work on that but must admit to loving the connection my approach allows me with interviewees. We laugh, we cry, we share intimacies and bond in ways that often creates brand planning magic. When the barriers are down in an un-clinical (listening) way, sharing happens. Some of it deeply cognitive.



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Two titans of retail are facing off and it’s going to be wild.  Walmart and Amazon. Amazon and Walmart. There will be only winners: the businesses and the custies.  Amazon continues to kill it in online retail. So much so, in fact, that they’re looking into some brick and mortar places to make product access near-instantaneous.  Walmart is beginning to get that 800 lb. monkey off its back (low price, low-esteem, box store with bad vegetables), by ramping up its online offering. It quintupled online SKUs in one year thanks to purchases like and others.

The real war zone, when it comes to customer marketing, will be brand-side.  Amazon has an amazing brand that is maturing. An overdog I like to call it. Walmart in a heart brand that many people view as high-traffic but low-value. Don’t get me wrong, the retail product has value, but the brand is a little lacking in the amygdala, as brand expert Megan Kent might say.

Both brands have the money and leadership to innovate. Both have the dough to execute. Now it will be up to the brand leaders to create some excitement. Walmart faces more of an uphill challenge. One any brand strategist would love to tackle. But we all know what happened to the overdogs.




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The What’s The Idea? brand strategy development process can best be explained in three stages. They are quite serial in nature but can overlap. Discovery is discovery. Conduct category research, ask a lot of questions of stakeholders, customers and prospects and be in thorough learn mode. Learn language, customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. Part fact-finding exercise, part search for feelings and attitudes (pal Megan Kent counsels “Feelings trump reason”). discovery fills the brain and content receptacle with lots of stuff.

Fermentation is just as it sounds. It’s the part of the process where there is active, unbridled growth. Action and reaction. Some bubbles. Lots of churn. It’s the most creative part of the process. Sometimes fermentation occurs during REM sleep, other times it takes place in the shower, or while mowing the lawn. It’s where ideas beget ideas. The fermentation process is nature and random. Serendipitous and planned.


Lastly we have the boil down. This is where everything from Discovery and Fermentation goes into a large metaphoric stock pot. Heat is applied and evaporation starts. Water and non-essential information, data, proof, care-abouts and good-ats are boiled away. This is where the tough decision are made and priorities established. What comes out of the boil down, with the help of a brand brief, is One Claim and 3 Proof Planks, AKA the brand strategy.

And there, ladies and gentlefellows is how we make the sausage. Peace.


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Brand eXperience.

X. Where Experience Meets Design is Brian Solis’s new book, one I suspect will be a big seller. Why? Because product and brand experience are critical customer care-abouts. Another reason? Advertising and marketing agencies can bill for it; it’s a business. Brand experience was a smart business the first time I ran into it at Megan Kent and David Kessler’s Starfish Brand Design. They were, and are, big fans of what Mr. Solis is now branding X.

Dare I say brand experience will become the pop marketing term of the 20 teens? Maybe not a whirlwind term such as “transparency” or “authenticity,” but it’ll be a thing. Bet on it.

That said, anyone can talk experience. Anyone can even build an experience. But for it to be meaningful and make deposits in the brand bank, it cannot be random. A brand experience needs to be on brand strategy – defined as an “organizing principle containing a claim and three support planks.”

Experience in brick and mortar and online are manageable, but certainly not easy. Without a brand strategy it will not only be messy — it may be counterproductive. Let’s see where Mr. Solis takes us. Off to order the book.


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Last year, I did some consulting for a really smart athletic wear company. The CEO grew up in a niche, understood the market opening and built a company to fill that opening. Focus is a critical component of marketing and this CEO had it. Brand planners and brand experience consultants are always on the lookout for focus.  

Marketers sometimes fall into a trap to expand that focus beyond what they know (and love) which can be the beginning of the end.  Line extensions – endemic line extensions, that is – are okay, but things like sales growth numbers and market growth data can intoxicate a leader.

During this consulting gig the company owner brought me in to help create an “insanely great” retail shopping experience.  Since the owner already had the focus down, this “ask” was a brilliant next step. As brand experts Megan Kent and David Kessler would tell you, building a strong brand is not about just about the creative, it’s about the total experience.  And that’s execution.  That’s deeds not messages.  

One is most likely to build an insanely great retail brand experience if s/he follows the brand idea. Go generic, e.g., customer care above and beyond, and you have no muscle memory.  Or you are compared to Nordstrom.

Of course, production and pricing must also come in to play but they, too, are decisions informed by the brand plan.  Peace.

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The body is amazing thing.  Nobody will argue with that.   One of the keys to health is proper digestion.  It starts with enzymes in the mouth, mastication of solids via the teeth, then channeling food down the throat through various stomach and intestinal tubes and reservoirs, where the extraction of goodness and badness occur, adding life and nourishment to our blood and cells. Digestion.

But digestion also happens in marketing communications. We hear, see, read and, yes, even smell promotional cues all day long.  Sometimes — even when we sleep.  Color, poetry, context, cortex stimulation, likeability all contribute to what we remember and choose to act upon. Megan Kent, a master strategist and student of the brain’s role in brand experience, is expert in the digestion of marketing. Her theory of “brand synchronicity” would likely support these thoughts on marketing digestion:

  • If you need a tab on your homepage labeled “What is brand X?” …you are having some marketing indigestion.
  • If your tagline is comprised of three separate and unrelated words….you have marketing indigestion.
  • If your ad agency writes ads promising change, and then laundry lists the supports to the point of confusion… grab the Tums.
  • If you test the work asking consumers “What’s the main idea of the communication?” to which they offer a look of consternation and a long thoughtful ummm…you are in the land of the indigestible marko-babble.

Digestion of food is easy; the good is separated from the bad. When it comes to marketing and advertising, digestion is not so easy.  Only the well-organized can create selling nourishment. Peace.

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I went to a workshop yesterday hosted by Starfish Brand Design in NYC.  It not only reenergized me, it reminded me there are still some really smart people in the branding business.  Starfish preaches that a powerful branding idea is, indeed, indelible but they don’t just preach theory, they make it happen.  Unlike some brand consulting companies, Starfish doesn’t stop at the paper strategy — or after the logo, mission statement, and style manual have been delivered.  They don’t rest until clients “get” the branding idea and as a company “live” the branding idea.


Starfish goes into overdrive when it comes to helping brands manifest, operationalize and broadcast their unique selling proposition. That’s their point of difference. (My peo-ple!)


Megan Kent and David Kessler, along with the other Starfish tentacles, have a genetic predisposition toward understanding selling culture. They know which parts of the brain light up during the different steps to a sale and apply that learning to help companies sell more stuff. They’ve got the tools and know the tricks. Glad to have been invited to the workshop. Peace!




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