noah brier

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Whither Noah?

Noah Brier was one of my earlier poster favorites.  Unlike a paster, a poster is an original content creator and influencer. An active thought provoker in branding and digital business, Noah blogged like a dookie. Alas, during his early years he got bitten by the start-up bug and co-founded content marketing platform Percolate.  I say alas, not because Percolate isn’t a great software technology, it is I’m sure.  I say alas because Noah and his brain could have been so much more transformational for our business. Before coat, suit and tie (Jefferson Airplane reference) he was the trailblazer, maker, and idealizer our business lacks today.

Strategy is still the stepchild of ad makers, website makers, and content creators.  It is not the commerce fulcrum it will eventually become. Noah is a strategist. A market changer.

Today, collapsing the steps to a sale (awareness to transaction) is a tactical job. A network job.   When it becomes strategic, we’ll see breakthroughs. Breakthroughs supported by technology. And on that day sell your Alphabet sock. Hee hee. That’s when we’ll start to see some Mars shots.  And Mars shots are what we missed when “Hey, It’s Noah” went to ground.



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When a group of CMOs on LinkedIn has to ask the question “What is a brand?” (Or was it a bunch of brand planners?)  The fact that the question is asked is damning.  I’m a big Noah Brier fan – he of Percolate – and even he asked me once “How do you define a brand plan?” His question was meant to see if I was all dreads and no cattle. There are so many a practitioners out there who don’t have a clue.

Many rubber-meets-the-road marketing types want to know “How do I measure a brand plan?”  “How do I measure the sales return of a brand plan?”  The answer is easy.  First, have one.

Assuming your brand plans are like mine: one claim and 3 support planks, the measures are easy. If one plank is about being fastidious, you can ask your customers to rank you on fastidiousness.  You can ask general consumers to rate you as well, that will tell you how well the story is getting out. You can rate yourself on fastidiousness – doing spot checks on personnel performance. On a macro level, you then tie sales, margins, or stock performance to the rise and fall of these brand plan metrics.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  This is the part of the dashboard you get to present upstairs at headquarters, while the cost-per-click and coupon redemption people remain waiting in the lobby.  Along with the people polishing that gleaming Cannes Lion.

(The headline for this post is for you to interpret.  It’s part George W. part morning coffee. Hee hee.) Peace!

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Strategy is foreplay.  It’s the upfront work that prepares the way for the big event. In brand planning, though, it’s about many big events. As they say in the technology business, a strategy is extensible.

Marketers who get branding understand the role of the brand plan. (Noah Brier –name drop– once asked me “How do you define a brand plan?”)  Creating a brand plan is the most important work a marketer can do, yet ironically less than 1% of all money spent in marketing goes to it.  Go to ConAgra, Microsoft or Heineken or, or, or.  They’ll provide project plans and briefs containing lots of paper and digits on sales and targets. And one page on message.  This most important page is often not message-restrictive…it’s about tonality, goals and insights. You can drive trucks through these pages.  A good brand plan has a tight message strategy. You either hit the claim and support planks or you don’t.  If you don’t, go back to work.

Creative people who hate strategy don’t really hate strategy, they hate bad strategy. Mealy mouthed strategy. Strategy is not about making creative people color between the lines, it’s about using a brand language that helps them speak to consumers through a brand-positive, business-building organizing principle.

Tomorrow, marketers will go off and spend the 99% of their budgets on ads, agencies, video and interactive.  (Cannes rewards the beautiful and funny.) But the Jay Chiat Awards is where the 1%ers are headed. Peace. 

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As the role of marketing director gets more complicated, owing to all the new tools and arithmetic available to sellers and selling agents, the brand plan grows in importance.  I met with smart strategist Noah Brier a while ago and he asked me “How do you define a brand plan?”  Everyone has a different definition, he added.  Truism that.

My brand plan is quite simple: One claim, three proof planks. The claim embodies or pays off the Is-Does (what a brand is and what a brand does) and the proof planks (or supports) organize the story – into 3 telling and impactful reasons to believe.  A brand plan is an organizing principle for selling more.

I wrote a consultant this morning telling her how most companies can save mad money by investing in a tight brand plan. Rather than pay a marketing person $150,000 a year, a company can pay $90,000 per year if the brand plan is definitive.  And if the KPIs (key performance indicators) are correct.  And beyond the annualized salary savings, don’t forget the money spent on wasted tactics each year by marketing organizations — money that could be saved with a brand plan. John Wanamaker’s famous suggestion that only ‘half his advertising was working, he just didn’t know which half,’ can also be applied to marketing tactics today.  We are living tactics-palooza. More cowbell, I mean, more social media!

My business is called What’s the Idea? for a reason. Most businesses don’t have an idea (a brand strategy) they can articulate without going all mark-babble and tripping over their tongues. One idea, three selling planks.  Pieces!

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I love the fact that ad and marketing agencies are getting into the business business.  Anomaly, Kirshenbaum, Bond, Senecal and Partners, Horizon Media,
Rockfish Interactive, GMD Studios and a handful of others, rather than just making ads that either work or don’t, or creating websites that click or don’t, are turning business ideas into commercial enterprises. And experiencing that reality.

The biggest gripe between agencies and clients has always been that agencies care about the communication first and leave the sales to the clients.  Sure, the agencies will go flip some hamburgers when they win a new fast food account or sit in the emergency dept. to see what healthcare is all about, but at the end of the week the paycheck shows up and the pain is someone else’s if “the work don’t work.”

By starting businesses with new P&Ls this new breed of shop gets to “feel” all 4 Ps. Plus they get to feel the customers. Feel their own employees. Noah Brier a smart new school marketer suggests every marketer should learn to write little code just to get a taste of what digital is all about. Get the hands and brain dirty.  Agencies that build outside businesses will first flounder a bit and then excel at their craft. Droga5 became a stronger shop thanks to Honeyshed, mark my words. Peace!


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The evolution of web traffic started with technology. Search begat the first big rush — but of course there had to be something to search so HTML really started it all.  After search came social networks (MySpace and Facebook) which allowed people to create websites or webpages thanks to templates and databases.  Allowing everyone (not just coders) to create a web presence opened this door. Then came music sharing sites and other media upload sites like Flickr and YouTube. All technology enabled.

During the build out of these tech-enabled web sites, communities began to emerge.  And so came enthusiast sites: Tech enthusiasts, movie enthusiasts. porn devotees, daters, news junkies. Those interested in healthcare. Communities sprung up, big and small, but mostly big.

Currently, we’re on an entertainment jag, with games and virtual goods, random video chat and anime mash-ups drawing the attention of the masses and venture money. The iPazzle (technology) is creating some new applications for sure, moving everything toward a single device, but it won’t explode web traffic exponentially.

So what’s next? What human need is not being met?  When we get tired of entertainment what will we seek?  What will generate massive traffic and engagement on the web?  It will be micro-communities. Noah Brief and Piers Fawkes might call them LikeMinds. For me, I’d love to chat with kids who went to Amityville JHS, in school the day Martin Luther King was shot. Or people who saw the Allman Brothers early show at the Fillmore East in 1970 the night they shot the inside album cover. Maybe we are not like minds, but we’re like experiencers… at a certain time and place. There’s an idea for Google or Bing, the search experts. Micro communities. Peace!

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My first tweet (, a fun application conceived by Noah Brier, contained a typo. That’s just about right. 

Though not a 10 tweets a day kind of guy, I do love the app. Readers know I have great expectations for Twitter in the business world.  Twitter doesn’t have the users of Facebook and many still think it a silly web exuberance, but it really has only just scratched the surface of its potential.  My daughter who’s a Millennial just signed up and she didn’t get Twitter for the longest time.

Yesterday I was in the locker room of a professional sports team.  Can’t say the name.  Outside the looker room in the hall next to the showers is where all pertinent team information is posted.  An 8 x10 memo on insurance, a notice that the barber will be on prem Friday, small laminated color piss charts encouraging proper hydration. Don’t forget to shower before you get in the whirlpool.  Next to all these little officious documents is a huge horizontal poster “Twitter Dos and Don’ts.” 

Dos: Okay to say “great game” and “thank the fans.” Don’ts: no RT (retweeting) other peoples’ unsubstantiated stuff, talk about injuries or the game plan.   The list is quite long and modular so it can be expanded. It starts at eye level and is currently down to the waist. Athletes love Twitter.

I once wrote a brief stating that a musician is never more in touch with his/her art than when staring into the eyes of the audience.  Twitter is not exactly the same thing but its close.  When marketers learn how to use Twitter to really listen it will become, as Dick Costello predicts, a billion-user application. Peace!

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Noah Brier once asked me “How do you define a brand plan?”  Everyone, he suggested, has a different view of what a brand plan is.  My ability to answer in a few words with a simple explanation impressed (I think). A brand plan is really just an organizing principle. In order to create a good brand plan, one must first get the Is-Does right.  What a brand IS and what it DOES. The Is-Does is one of the easiest and at the same time hardest exercises known to marketers. For instance, is the iPhone a phone?

Technology companies have a terrible time with the Is-Does. Here’s an Is-Does example from a website:

A global provider of digital advertising technology solutions that optimize the use of media, creative and data for enhanced performance.

Try explaining that to your great aunt.  

A video on the same website, presumably created by someone with agency chops, refers to the company this way “A global leader in digital advertising campaign management.” Much better, no? 

What Makes a Good Is-Does?

The litmus of a good Is-Does is its ability to be played back by consumers. Ask a consumer what your brand Is and what it Does and they should be in the neighborhood.  If they have to use a competing brand to define you, that’s not good.  And here’s a tip, don’t put words like “solution provider” in the Is-Does or use marketing poesy or made-up concepts.

If you have some really bad Is-Does examples (usually found on the boiler plate of press releases or the first sentence of the About section of a website) please post in the comments.

 My Is-Does? Marketing Consultant (Is) that helps companies find powerful, sales driving brand strategies (Does).  What is your company’s Is-Does? Peace!

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I follow lots of people but a couple of my favorites are Charlene Li, Jeremiah Owyang, Peter Kim and Noah Brier. Charlene is just smart. She has morphed from a tech analyst to a social media expert to a management consultant, all within 3 years.  She’s a media darling who reinvents herself almost annually. Jeremiah Owyang, who works with Charlene at the Altimeter Group is also another schmarty pants.  He loves grids and quadrants, he loves to write, share and listen – and he loves to use technology.  Analytical with a capital A.

Peter Kim is cut from the same cloth as Charlene and Jeremiah (all three are Forrester Research alums) but landed at the Dachis Group – a company filled with doers.  Dachis will crack the code on bringing Web 2.0 to the enterprise and make a banana boat of bucks doing so. Peter likes to mix it up a bit.  A proud man.  Then there’s Noah Brier — chief strategist at the Barbarian Group.  Like a racehorse in the paddock who you know will win the Derby someday, he’s exciting to watch.  The beauty about Noah is you just don’t know what’s next. He’s random, brilliant, a doer and he loves bounding about in that paddock.

I wish these four blogged every day.  If they would just give me a 100-150 words (no more Jeremiah), I’d be satisfied and so, so nourished. Please hit those keys.  Peace!

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Noah Brier is an exciting, off-piste marketing strategist.  His post the other day suggesting some businesses would do well to have born on dating is a case in point. 

 Head of planning and strategy at the Barbarian Group, Mr. Brier is unique because he likes to question rules, norms and the tried and true. He looks at the blacks, whites and grays.  His mind mashes up things and, I suspect, he sometimes introduces a bit of randomness to his rigor – just for flavor. In the advertising or creative business some might call this approach disruptive. I think of it as natural. Seeds grow in the oddest places…not always where the farmer plants them. They blow around, are carried by birds, find unlikely hosts for germination. If Steve Jobs is embodied by the advertising tagline “think different” Mr. Brier of similar mind and value in a strategist’s body.

 Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Brier can go head-to-head with traditionalists – he just doesn’t always chose to.

 His monthly likemind — something he and Piers Fawkes came up with — is an audacious idea bringing people of similar views together in coffee shops around the world.   I suspect it won’t be long before he and Mr. Fawkes invent UnlikeMind.  Let’s start with one here in the states on the topic of healthcare. Might work. Peace!

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