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At What’s The Idea? a brand brief costs $17,500. List price. The people willing to spend that type of money know it’s s steal. Having an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” makes every act of marketing easier. Compare $17,500 to the cost of a newspaper ad, website take-over, or a radio flight. It’s peanuts. Sadly, the word brief, in advertising and marketing has been reduced to an instructive piece of paper telling creative people what not to do. Ish.  They are often poorly written, almost all interchangeable, and not given much heed. But brand briefs – they are different story.

For a robust brand brief I need weeks. A month actually. A good brand brief requires interviews, fieldwork, research and brain steep. If we’re talking about a brand brief for a billion dollar company there may be lots of qualitative and quantitative testing as well. Up goes the price. And money well spent.

Done well, a brand brief informs all areas of business. If CRM is marketing template, the brand brief is its architecture. If PR is a communication template, a brand brief is its measure of success. If customer journey is a template, the brand brief is the bread crumb trail.

If you are in the business of selling things, raise your hand. If you don’t have a brand brief you are a simple fisherman.

For examples of brand briefs, showing claim and proof (brand tangibles), please write me at Steve at whatstheidea.




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Steve Rubel is an acquaintance who has done lots to alter the landscape of social media.  He’s got pop.  (Baseball metaphor.)  He once tweeted a post of mine about “Google’s culture of technological obesity” which got hit by Lifehacker and earned me 1,000 blog visits a day for a while. That’s power.

Steve works high up at Edelman PR and though less visible to the public these days, is no doubt making the company some nice profits.  We all miss him, I’m sure.

Edelman is doing some leading edge stuff in social media and PR.  I came across a Twitter handle of theirs yesterday:  @edelmanfood.  Whoever is managing the account, and I’m sure it’s a small group of people, are thoughtful category trollers.  This is advanced stuff. Leadership stuff.  They’ve created their own little practice area topic on Twitter – something extensible into other media which in a fast twitch media world is an idea with ballast.

While category trolling is broad and much better than brand trolling, it does not hit the requirements of “Have a motivation” (Google “Social Media Guard Rails+Slideshare”). That’s next. For now let Edelman troll the category and do it better than most. A Twitter account or a Fotchbook page with a branded motivation, though, offers real pop!  Peace. 

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There’s an interesting article in the Times today regarding the branding of Venture Capital firms.  The word “brand” is mentioned 4 times (Tools, File, Find on page) but nowhere is there any sense of what these VC firms actually stand for – what their point of difference is. The article really means “awareness” and “PR” not branding.  Marc Andreesen and PR hawk Margit Wennmachers all know the value of awareness, stories and creating positive prevailing wind in the blogosphere, but no one (reporter Nicole Perlroth included) understands how to build a brand…how to organize the selling story that is branding. They misuse the word.

And that might be a good thing, because though it’s important to have a well-known and respected VC behind you. Entrepreneurs – and this, the article does say – want to make sure their company and brand are visible during start-up. Start-ups are the ones that need the brand building, the organizing principle. More so than VC firms. Everybody needs strong brand, a strong Is-Does and a meaningful organizing principle, but VC firms that hire PR people and think that’s branding need to dig a bit deeper. Peace.




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Why are we loyal?  And when we begin to understand loyalty, how do we foster and strengthen it?  Moreover, how do we build loyalty from the ground up?

One of the reason I got into brand planning was the realization that a poor Appalachian dirt farmer with nary a pot to pizzle in will spend his hard earned cash on a premium brand of motor oil.  Did his daddy suggest it’s the only oil to use?  Did his favorite NASCAR driver sing its praises on ESPN?  Was it promoted in the window of the store he bought soda pop in as a kid?

Here’s another question: Why do most college kids, after only 4 years, retain a level of loyalty toward their school not reserved for jobs, the towns they grew up in, or even a 20 year marriage?    

These questions need to be analyzed, understood and acted upon. Consumers don’t become loyal to ads, direct marketing, PR or promotion.  They may become loyal to a website, because websites are brand experiences or brand distribution channels (read Amazon, Zappos, Gawker), but loyalty to a message un uh. Bad marketing agents will tell you otherwise, but don’t listen — that’s not how you build long-term market share.  Loyalty comes from other places. Trust. Consistency. Aspiration. Community. Pride. 

At the end of every day, marketers need to leave the building asking themselves “What did I do today to strengthen brand loyalty?” If they don’t have an answer, they are losing ground. Peace!

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I love a good cause.  Clean water, sans parasites , in the developing world (Africa) is one such. Levi’s jeans, as part of its “Go Forth” campaign, is sponsoring a Facebook program that ask people to click their support for, and once a 100,000 clicks are gathered Levi’s will donate money.   This is “good’s work” (thank you Bailey’s Café) and it will make a difference. I support it and suggesteth everyone go forth and donate. That said, Levi’s still needs a brand idea and “individualism and independence” ain’t it.


If Levi’s cares about the environment, and I know it does, they should jump on the durability wagon.  Buy one pair, don’t get one free, you don’t have to buy another pair for 3 more years.  That’s environmentalism.  And stop with all the stone washing stuff that wears the jeans out a year early.  The worn-in patina of a pair of Levi’s is the badge.  Faded knees, faded pockets, holes in the crotch.  This is life. Not art imitating life.  Don’t pay some schmekel to pre- tear your jeans…get up on the life cycle and wear them out yourself!

Levi’s is one of the great American brands and it has lost its way.  FCB got it.  BBH got it a bit and sexed it up. Wieden and Kennedy, a brilliant shop, has found a core, but it’s the wrong core.  Individualism and independence a brand plank, not “the idea.” 

The project should be left to the PR dept.  Fight the durability fight (it’s American) and get mad credit for the environment – on so many levels. Peace!


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Pop quiz.  You are thinking of buying a new car.  A Volkswagen Beetle is among your choices. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say you are 25 years old.  Here’s a marketing multiple choice:

A.     You’re invited to a special free concert with the black Eyed Peas performing. There are Volkswagen Beetles positioned at the entry points to the concert.  There is mad signage and car pictures projected on screen throughout the concert but the performers never mention the words Beetle or Volkswagen.

B.     You like the Black Eyed Peas and buy a ticket to their concert. At the show there are no physical cars on display, but there are large display ads tastefully arrayed around the concert space showing car, brand and promise.

C.     Fergie, in workout clothes, is photographed leaving the gym of her personal trainer. She looks particularly aglow and has a hand darting around her bag looking keys — about to get into her new black Volkswagen Beetle.

I can tell you what an event marketing company would pick. And charge. I can suggest what a typical social media company would select (all three, they rarely care.) And I can tell you what a PR company would prefer. Heavy on one, but all three would generate fees.  There is only one true answer here. And that answer is fundamental to marketing. And you all know which one it is. Marketing is hard. Peace!

PS. Answer “A” actually happened… and it’s not correct.


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I love social media.  I do.  It is changing the marketing landscape. Not always for the better, but that’s okay, we can learn from our mistakes.  The key is to use it. 

One of the areas in which I think social media is misused is cause marketing – specifically when paired in transmedia  programs tied to advertising and promotion.  Case in point:  In an article in yesterday’s New York Times, there was a story about the Kellogg Company getting behind a very important cause – feeding impoverished kids breakfast.  Kellogg is said to be donating $200,000 across the country to feed school kids healthy breakfasts.  Yesterday was National Breakfast Day. The cause was clearly a good one.

Where it gets a little hinky and bit forced is when Kellogg campaigns (verb) the effort and promotes a social activity called “Share your breakfast.”  For each picture of a breakfast uploaded to the Kellogg website a breakfast will be donated to an under-served school.  The program will be promoted via traditional advertising, digital, event, mobile and the rest of the kitchen sink.  There will be a long table TV spot, free breakfasts in Grand Central Station and a bunch of agencies sharing media plans. According to Kellogg this is their largest integrated program yet. 

I truly applaud the “feed the under-served” intent, though $200,000  wouldn’t pay for half the TV spot production.  That said, the total program is a bit like an undercooked omelet prepared with a bunch of back-of-the-refrigerator ingredients.  The initial idea was a good one no doubt, but the transmedia requirement took it way off the rails.  The cause component would have been better handled as a solo PR effort. Perhaps next year will be tighter.  Peace!

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Reverb Communications, a PR firm based in California that was writing fake product reviews on behalf of clients and publishing them on iTunes, became the first company “snitkered” by the Federal Trade Commission.  Tracie Snitker is an executive at Reverb and was the one person sanctioned for the practice, though no fine was levied. Hence the new verb.

It’s not every day you get to come up with a new word, but there it is.  Though my work here is never done, I will Peace Out and move on with my Friday. And whatever you do, you social media agents of change, don’t get caught snitkering. It can get kind of sticky.

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Earlier this year I attended an “integration” meeting.  In the room with the client were representatives from its many roster shops: the AOR, consumer promotions, public relations, trade, digital and media.  Advertising creative was presented so, clearly, lots of work had been done before integration was undertaken.  Our team assignment was to brainstorm the target psyche and ways to translate the AOR’s creative to our various disciplines.  

This is new world stuff here. The lead agency who sponsored the session even agreed they had not done anything like this before – asking each participating shop to provide feedback as to the process.  Prior to the meeting we shared an experiential assignment and, so, had common ground upon which to share (and bond). In addition to clients, the disciplines represented in the room were creative, account planning, account management and media.  The latter had a few minutes to walk us through target consumer media habits. 

I liked it.  Lots of really smart people sharing from across disciplines; no one afraid to speak up. This is progress people! We all got along.  No darts tossed.  Lot’s of good, dedicated people caring about the assignment rather than their agencies and asses.  It was quite harmonious. The “go dos” after the meeting were to be compiled by the lead agency, and turned over to all attendees to move forward. Not perfect but a very good start at integration. It takes a recession. Peace!  

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