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Chipotle raised prices last year on its beef burrito 4-6% and consumers didn’t blink. They happily paid. Why is that? The Bain and Boston Consulting nerds might say Chipotle has great price elasticity. I say Chipotle offers great ROS, return on strategy. One of the best ways to measure return on strategy is to poll current customers about price. “Would you continue to buy Hoegaarden if the price were raised 5%?” a market question might read. If the answer is yes, one might follow up with “Why” or “What is it about Hoegaarden that makes you such a fan?” The answers to the questions are influenced by marketing. And brand strategy – defined as an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.

When a brand has a codified organizing principle, marrying what the product does well with what consumers want most, it has a strategy. Only then can return on that strategy be measured. In market share. In dollars. And in sense (sic).

As you market your products and services, please don’t forget to measure return on your strategy — not just the return on your tactical investments. Peace!

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My blog and consulting company are named What’s The Idea? To creative people an idea is a campaign-able meme; something that binds creative executions together so consumers can play them back and talk about the product. Big creative ideas are what marketers are looking for and spend millions on. Mostly, marketers don’t look to digital agencies for these ideas. Friends at Razorfish once told me they didn’t get a seat at the big boy table when it came to the big idea. This is changing, but slowly. Where digital agencies are thought to operate is down with the data.

As data collection tools grow and ROI tools refined, “down with the data” is not a bad place to be. Big ideas that appeal to the masses, however, are data supported not data driven. Too much data fogs the creative mind. There’s a trend among digital agencies to seek out traditional planners for idea stim. It’s a good first step to removing the sectarian approach practiced by agencies and marketers. I think removing the barriers between traditional and digital shops is the right thing to do. Granular and macro, used together, create better results. But the big, killer idea is still the center of gravity of great marketing.



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Never is a marketing consultant more ill at ease than when a client asks “How much revenue will this tactic generate?”  Or, “If I run this ad campaign, how many inquiries will it generate?” CEOs and CFOs ask these questions because they want to know what the return will be. I’ve often written about the importance of ROS (return on strategy) over ROI (return on investment) which tends to measure tactics. The reality is, all marketers and their agents want to know their marketing efforts pay off.  But just as tech start-ups get away, quarter after quarter, without monetization plans, marketers keep trotting out the old lazy axiom “I know half my advertising is working, I just don’t know which half” and muddle on.  

That’s why we should be measuring strategy, not tactics. Strategy crosses channels and tactics. Strategy informs tactics. Sure tactics can be strong or weak, but graded on strategy delivery creates a third dimension for analysis.

How well does this package design convey the brand strategy?  How well does this retail experience deliver the brand promise?  How convincing is this video at making a prospect believe the brand claim? Grading our marketing work not simply by action but by brand conviction is the way toward marketing monetization.  Measuring awareness, first mention or a porous tagline is not measuring strategy. Nor is measuring time on page.    

When measures become endemic to your business and not generic, you will know you are on the right path. Peace!

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Is there a word more used these days in marketing meetings than “passion?” I write and speak about marko-babble a lot — marko-babble defined as words so often used and watered down, they become meaningless. It’s like they come out of a handbook. Authenticity, transparency, ROI all come to mind. I’m not saying “passion” is marko-babble, it’s a price of entry, a means of staying  truly alive in your business category, but in brand planning, it is actually a negative word.

For less than a day, I changed my LinkedIn profile to read: “I am a passionless brand planner.  That’s right passionless.”  Passion can cloud the judgment. Parents are passionate about love of their children. Is that why many miss teenage maladaptive behaviors?  Company officers are passionate about their product and services.  Does that put a gauze over their ability to see market realities?  Brand planners must be ever-energetic in their search for insights, patterns and cultural observations surrounding commerce and purchase behavior, but passion should not enter into it. Peace!

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Ideas are hard to trust. Tangible things like design, ads, copy, promotion, and user experience are easier to trust.  You can see them, ask your friends about them, test them.  “I love that logo. That ad brought in 100 new customers.  My email campaign had a 1.25% click through rate.”

But ideas? You can’t scientifically parse and evaluate an idea.  Brand strategies are ideas. Volvo makes you safer.  Coca Cola refeshes. Cottonelle is softer.  These brand strategies, like all good ones, are indelible.  I’ve written a great deal about ROS or return on strategy.  So far, ROS is just an idea.  Though one can calculate ROI ( return on investment/tactic), return on strategy is much harder to calculate.  Why? Because ROS tries to understand the value of an idea. When I sell “rebooting the phone business” to a VOIP client along with 3 organizing principles to support the claim, I’m selling an idea. This idea might be measured in year over year sales, but on paper, how it is dimensionalized and quantified is not easy. (I still have work to do.)

Because ideas are easy to understand but harder to trust, branding has lost ground in today’s marketing world.  I joke that digital has created tactics-palooza and it’s true.  The best brands are idea-driven. Tight ideas and tight supports. Ideas create new products. Ideas motivate armies. Ideas make you happy or sad.

Ideas are hard to sell but the top tier CMOs get them. And live them.  What’s your brand’s idea? Peace.

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 One of the fastest growing content areas on YouTube (data source: me) is healthcare channels. Hospitals and health systems are uploading talking head videos at an amazing rate. One large nationally recognized hospital recently uploaded 25 videos by lunchtime.  YouTube has a way to go in perfecting its channel tools but visitors can search by clinical area, date added, most viewed, and top rated.

Healthcare provider companies are not known for their marketing expertise — they are too busy saving lives — but the move into YouTube is a smart one.  Do you know anyone who doesn’t have a family member with a health problem? The quality of these videos is quite good, albeit a bit over-polished.  If you remove the occasional singing video encouraging employees to wash their hands, you’re left with a body of work where humans talk to humans in understandable English, removing the magic.

Personally, I find the videos that don’t feel too scripted the best. Two docs at Memorial Sloan Kettering were talking on camera, sans make-up, and it felt very different from the norm, very real. The hospital has a reputation for clinical coolness and this video worked to change my attitude.

The ROI problems is this — these videos cost a good deal of money to produce and some get 28 views while others get 28,000 views.  As these channels grow in search sophistication and the video producers evolve, we are going to see some serious, serious advances traffic. This is big, important business. Peace! 

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Back in the 1700-1800s (in the U.S.) if you needed stuff you either made it or went to the general store.  The Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogue was the next marketing innovation (1888), showing pictures of products and published prices, allowing customers to purchase by mail. Among the 322 pages in the catalogue published in 1894 must have been products didn’t sell and had to be replaced. The birth of ROI? 


The next massive marketing innovation was television. Television commercials which began in earnest in the 1940s became the most popular, effective form of advertising. But can you imaging trying to track sales to media and production back then in the very beginning? “Where’s the ROI? How do you measure this stuff?” Mad men. 

The Web

Fast forward to the Inter-nech. Banner ads and ad serving allowed us to count clicks. 2% click thru rates. Whoo hoo. Click to buy. Whoo hoo. But not everything could be bought over the web. (Discussion of that for another day.) CTRs diminished and web display ads became, so said the salespeople, a branding mechanism.

Social Media

Enter social media.  And consultants. When consultants out-number practitioners you know the market is in flux. The Altimeter Group, some very smart people let me just say, created a social media presenttion ‘splaining how to measure social media via a marketing analytics framework. Here are some of the measurables: share of voice, audience engagement, conversation reach, active advocates, active influence, advocacy impact, customer problem resolution rate, resolution time, satisfaction score, plus a couple of metrics tied to gathering input for product innovation. What’s not mentioned here, something Messrs. Sear and Roebuck might have added, is sales.  I love consultants ( am one) and the Altimeter Group is growing like a dookie, but until they and all of us tie these type of metrics back to da monies, we’re just making paper.

A smart client at AT&T once said to me, “we collect all this data now we have to do something smart with it.”  That’s business. That’s return on strategy. Peace!

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There are two factions in online marketing these days: Cashiers and Conversationalists. 


Cashiers care about the sale. They have the small dashboard that tracks click-to-sale and spits out an ROI calculations. Cashiers can’t wait to wake up in the morning to see the new numbers. They are in to usability testing, shopping cart abandonment, media optimization and other measures but their interest and energy pretty much stops at the sale. The buck stops there.


Conversationalists are a daintier.  They immerse themselves in the process.  They want to make friends.  (Like the kid with the runny nose in grade school, sometimes they just walk right up to you and ask “Do you want be my friend?”)  In my world, conversationalists are actually more likely to find truths and insights about their products and win in the long term.  All the pop marketing gurus today are into the conversation. They are not technologists, thank God, so they are easy to listen to and learn from but their failing is that they’re a little too caught up in the sausage making, not the sausage tasting.


For a CMO it’s great to have both types of people on staff.  A Yin and Yang thing. Cashiers are imperative for sales now. Conversationalists care about future sales, and loyalty and sale predisposition. But it’s hard to take predisposition to the bank. Good CMOs have a brand plan in place that gives direction to the factions.  A brand plan is informed by the work and findings of both factions, but it drives them.  A brand plan helps Cashiers and Conversationalist organize “claim and proof” in a way that creates Return on Strategy near and long term. Peace!

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People sometimes jokingly ask me “What is the idea? referring to the name of my consultancy. My answer, borrowed from Sergio Zyman of the Zyman Group, is “sell more, to more, more often, at higher margins.”  That’s the ultimate goal of marketing, no? The quadruple crown.  Interestingly, unit sales, market penetration, per capita consumption, and higher margins are different measures. Linked, yes, but different.

When writing a marketing plan I typically start out with an exercise called The 24 Questions.  It’s traditional marketing, follow-the-money kind of stuff. Who’s buying? When? Who is involved in the decision? Most profitable customers? Margins? Channels?, etc. Once I get the money part of the equation I delve into brand questions — from the points of view of management, employees and customers. Some of the questions are designed to get to the truth and bypass the drama and ass-covering.


The hard work is in ranking the business objectives. Most of my decks (PPT presentations of findings) array a healthy number of business objectives. Prioritizing objectives leads to prioritized strategies which require someone at the company to put one objective at the top: “On a sinking boat which child would you save?” kind of question. These decisions are the provenance of the brain not the algorithm.  


ROS (return on strategy) is a metric that measures business and marketing strategy. ROI, on the other hand, ties marketing tactics to dollar return.  Not to minimize tactics, but you can buy a tactic from any marcom agency on the street. And thanks to the web – the greatest marketing tool since paper money – we’re in the midst of something I call Tactics-palooza.  ROS allows you to measure business objectives through a strategic lens. ROS is the way to go. Think of it as a crop-producing farm next to a field of healthy weeds. Peace!

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