peter kim

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I make paper for a living.  People pay big paper (money) for my paper, brand strategies.  Brand strategy is what my mentor Peter Kim would call a “selling idea,” an idea that predisposes consumers to a product or service, e.g., “the world’s information in one click” (Google), “refreshment” (Coca-Cola), “for doers not browsers” (ZDNet). 

To get to the idea one has to process a lot of information, typically presented on paper in the form of a brief. Briefs are my output to clients. But they are buying an idea. That’s the honeypot.    

I attribute my ability to craft good briefs to the proper creation and use of epigrams.



plural noun: epigrams

  1. a pithy saying or remark expressing an idea in a clever and amusing way.
synonyms: witticism, quip, jest, pun, bon mot; More

saying, maxim, adage, aphorism, apophthegm;

informalone-liner, wisecrack, (old) chestnut

“a collection of humorous epigrams from old gravestones”

o   a short poem, especially a satirical one, having a witty or ingenious ending.

My briefs are filled with them. Hidden in a narrative, serial story. Clients find meaning and inspiration in my epigrams. They are word plays about them, about their products. They are memorable. It’s how I sell the idea. It’s how I come up with the idea.

The secret sauce. Epigrams.




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Before I became a brand planner I was a writer of creative briefs at an ad agency. One of the bigger refinements of my learning came at the hand of Peter Kim, McCann-Erickson NY’s the strategy officer.  He designed (or repackaged) the McCann creative brief to include what he called the Key Thought. The Key Thought was the “spark that propels the brand toward its objective.”  The word spark is what I preserved for my branding practice. I morphed Key Thought into “Claim” a more focused branding label but both are cultivated from and beholden to the word spark.

At an ad agency, a spark is the direction that gets the creative team excited about an ad.  In brand planning, the spark is the claim under which all marketing work is organized.  

When I wrote crappy briefs, before spark, they were lifeless sentences devoid of personality, culture and intrigue. Post Spark, they were strategic but poetic. More pregnant with possibility.  As a brand claim, a spark is strategic but also more interpretative.

One of my first claims with a spark was for ZDNet. Written in the 90s, the brand strategy was “For doers not browsers.” Still holds today.

Spark it up! Peace.



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I often wonder if the targets for my business truly understand what I do. Those targets, CMOs, directors of marketing and small and mid-size business owners, read “brand consultancy” and get the consultant part, but may not truly understand the depth of the word brand. Brand today is both a noun and a verb.  

Many think brand is a mark or logo. Something that, through design, helps consumers with product identity. The whole branded cattle history thing. For people who view brands this way a brand consultancy is all logo, name, style guide and, perhaps, tagline. When AT&T spun off Lucent in the 90s, the whole process, exquisitely implemented by the way, cost millions. A year later, the company had a new name, logo, building signs, stock symbol and ad campaign. But not a brand strategy. (Peter Kim’s “$14B tech startup” aside.)

The reality is, especially in today service economy, a brand is a living breathing thing. My definition of brand strategy as “an organizing principle for Product, Experience and Messaging.” Most of my targets understand this definition better. In fact, they are more apt to acknowledge needing and organizing principle that they are a brand strategy.  

So moving forward my mission it to educate my targets as to this new definition. It will be a long road but one I expect will redistribute marketing wealth in my direction. Onward.




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One of the challenges when writing a brand brief is knowing which insight to use to fuel the claim. (The claim is the idea at the top of the brand strategy, supported by 3 proof planks.) Often in a brief there are 2 or 3 really exciting insights, all of which offer enough power to motivate brand predisposition. But which to pick, that’s the question.

What I love about the brief I use, borrowed from McCann-Erickson’s Peter Kim 2 decades ago, is that it has a serial framework. One section leads to the next. Like puzzle pieces, they don’t always fit, but fit they must. Until they fit, you need to keep working. Until there is a linear story you are only bumping along the cobble stones. Chank a chank.

As I work the brief, key insights find their way into the story. But some must be let go. What’s funny is the outcome of the story – the claim – is often not known until the story plays out. Insights float in the back of the mind as you work toward the end, some more strongly than others, but the big finish is often a bit of a surprise.

There can’t be two endings. Enjoy the ride.


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I once gave a creative brief template to an account manager who took it to a meeting at Adelphi University where he sat with the marketing lead and, together, tried to fill it out. In the midst of the meeting they called me to clarify one of the points – probably brand essence or core desire or some such.  I was flabbergasted.  Fruitcake. Not him, me; for not explaining the briefing process well enough.

A brief is a framework to get to an idea. I’ve lived with mine for years and it’s not too much different than it was when purloined from Peter Kim and McCann Erickson in the 90s. It has a nice linearity to it and helps me down the road to a selling idea.  

There are often many sparks for the idea within the brief, but it is the planner who himself or herself understands which one is going to birth the idea. There is always one insight that just hits the brain like a freight train. 

Some planners eschew frameworks so they can be more fluid. That’s okay. If it works — to each his own. We gather, we learn, we think, formulate, test and finally decide.

Getting there is all the fun.




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There is no segmentation in brand strategy. There are segments. There are segment priorities.

This I learned from Peter Kim, while he was the strategy head at McCann-Erickson in the 90s. On the iteration of the brief he pulled together at the time – which I still use today – Mr. Kim talked about understanding all target audiences. As we know, it’s a big world out there and many targets purchase and influence purchase. In Mr. Kim’s rigor, once you understood all the different targets, it was time to “remassify” them into one target. From that one mass target he asked you to determine a shared attitude or care-about all would agree upon.

One might think this could create an opportunity to water down the care-about. And it may…but only if you let it. Brand planners have to prioritize at this point. They may have to hold one part of the target more sales-sacred. Brands touch everyone. No one should be left behind.

Segmentation studies make it so one focuses the brand claim on the most likely buyer. But in branding we try to speak to the masses. Segmentation comes later once the brand strategy is cooked.



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There is no strategy without tactics. Guys like me who write about brand strategy may seem like we’re above tactics, not wanting to get our hands dirty. (Twenty years ago, Peter Kim a McCann-Erickson mentor told me “Once I’ve sold the brand idea, I want to be done.” Everything after that gets messy, he explained. Approving ads, media, talent and all other things subjective.

The thing about planners, especially older planners, is we like to understand the big picture first. We like to go big. Once we understand how to solve the category, the deepest pent up consumer need, then we can focus on the specifics. Problem is, marketers aren’t looking to solve the world’s ills, they’re looking to sell shit. Flat out, right away, cha-ching the cash register, sell shit. Today in this fast twitch media world, marketing directors want their chunk of the returns. Big data? Hell no. Little data about my product. Yes. Data that says “more sales.” Period.

So we planners need to get the pipes out of our mouths and start talking tactics with clients. (Maybe keep the big picture stuff to ourselves a little more.) All my rants about claim and proof? Here’s one: Good branding works. Sales are proof.


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The target for a “brand brief” is very different from a target for a tactical brief. The target for a tactic is much more specific. Much more finite.  For a brand brief, everyone who comes into contact with the brand must be accounted for.  

The rigor is this: Look at all the groups who may be influential in a brand decision. Let’s say we are selling a protein drink to an elderly consumer. One group would be the consumer himself. Then the consumer’s caregiver – usually a family member – and there are many flavors of caregiver, trust me. The physician is certainly an interested party as are paid caregivers like home nurses. Also payors are a target, such as insurance companies and govie groups like Medicare/Medicaid.

Once you have all the targets, you need to understand what motivates them. Peter Kim, the author of this thought process, would say you must re-massify the target; searching out a commonality they all share. With the protein example, you can see that a consumer might have different motivation (taste) than a physician (grams of protein) or insurance company (cost). Which may be different from a caregiver (compliance). It’s a bit of a maze. The deeper you dig with each target the more likely you are to find the common ground.

Brand building is bigger than a click or a sale. Branding building is not transactional. Brands live on. Brand planning must be an inclusive pursuit. Measure twice, cut once. Peace.

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In my brand briefs the Living Breathing Target provides a layer of consumer insight many briefs don’t have.  The line after the target is Core Desire, a building block in the logic flow that leads to the idea. The difference between Living Breathing Target and a typical target is one of psychographic Vs. demographic. And the difference between the Living Breathing Target and the Core Desire is often depth and context. The target, typically described with a fun memorable name like Weberterians or Kings of the Castle, is a “grouping of people bound by a single shared attitude or belief.” A bit of a macro collective or people. Perhaps a bit cultural.

The Core Desire  dives into the consumers “most deeply held desire or belief that the brand can best meet or fulfill.” So it’s more product centric.  And don’t undervalue the word “deeply.” Analysis here is often quite instructive.


Great planners get people. Likely, they’ve had psychotherapy or studied it. And I’m not talking school psychology stuff, I’m talking Freudian balls-out therapy. Remember, Margaret Mead while at the Museum of Natural History wanted all employees to experience psychotherapy.  

Get inside the head of your target, understand what binds members to others, and you will have wonderful groundwork for your idea. Peacely.

PS. This brief was learned, borrowed and slightly modified while I was at McCann-Erickson in the mid-90s. Its author, as best I can tell, was Peter Kim, then Chief Strategy Officer.

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Insight Diving.


Wanna know what I do for a living?  Have you heard of dumpster diving? (Read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.) Well, I am an insight diver. I submerge myself into the murky waters of product, competition, product usage, experience, data and consumerism and I hunt for important market and brand building insights. 

What’s the difference between an insight and an observation? The latter leads to the former. Insights are scientific, projectable and actionable patterns that can be manipulated into preference or sale.

Many brand planners focus on finding one key insight around which they build a tactical brief, say for an ad or a digital  campaign.  I do that too, but start a bit earlier in the process, doing more foundational work. My definition of brand plan is and organizing principle that directs all marketing: product, place, price and promotion. One claim, three proof planks. One needs to dive deeply to fill this insight vessel.

Peter Kim (RIP) a brand planning mentor of mine often talked about “massifying” when it came to understanding the target.  That is, gather all possible targets then massify them into one target that shares a common trait related to your brand.  The hardest work at What’s the Idea? is taking all the gathered insights and massifying them into one claim — a claim which can be assiduously supported by three selling planks.   

I blind squirrel can find an insight. Creating an organizing principle for selling and loyalty, after you surface from the insight dive, that’s what I do.  Peace.

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